Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes and Greg Meyer on the sport today

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  • #5592

    GTF
    Member

    Part I:
    http://www.runningstats.com/Pages/925/Players.html

    RS had a golden opportunity at June’s Steamboat Classic weekend in Peoria to conduct a round-robin discussion with three men who between them have won marathons at a World Championships, as well as in London, Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Columbus and Toronto. All three are U.S. or British citizens, yet come from varied locations such as Wales, Michigan and South Africa. The trio, Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes and Greg Meyer, have paid a world of dues, Jones being the last British male to set a world record, Plaatjes the last U.S. male to win a World Championships marathon, and Meyer the last U.S. male to claim a men’s Boston Marathon title.

    Although some may find their comments critical at times, the same offerings were made in the spirit of potential constructive improvements being possible. And it is certainly logical to believe that between them they have had many years of experience of life at the top and what it takes to get there. If readers cogitate upon what each of them says, he or she may agree or disagree. But the important notion is to think carefully about their comments and whether each opinion has validity and might be germain to the health and welfare of a sport that still flourishes with participation in both Europe and the Americas.

    Regarding more than one issue, Running Stats agrees with much of what the three espouse in their views; yet alternatively disagrees with certain other comments made regarding private funding of institutions and athletes—a topic which will be addressed in a subsequent issue. RS feels it best to present much of what these three sages of the sport have opined, and then will conclude with our own editorial comments which may or may not agree with the general thrust of various remarks they make…

    Jones and Plaatjes stay involved with the sport in several ways. Jones is perhaps Reebok’s longest-running ambassador at races, and coaches the Boulder Express team, which won the U.S. Club Relay Championships. Plaatjes is one of the owners of the Boulder Running Company chain of stores, and coaches runners as well, the BRC men’s team having finished runner-up at the recent U.S. Club Relay Championships. Meyer informed us how he stays involved with racing in the U.S. “I stay involved with two races,” began the resident of Michigan. “The Fifth Third River Bank Run which is in Grand Rapids, is in May and is the U.S. 25K Championship. And we have a small open field, as well. The focus there is really on the Americans, and we bring in a lot of developmental athletes, as well. The hard part of that is getting quality Americans to show up. It’s a U.S. Championship, but again, the timing is bad. It’s marathon season, and the good ones are running Boston or London or somewhere else. But it’s been disappointing. I’ve talked to other races as well. It’s not easy to get a good U.S. field together. But it’s getting better, and we’re really happy this year—had a surprise winner, overall. It’s not that we don’t enjoy the foreign athletes coming. But it’s been so rare that an American wins, and we had one this year in Fernando Cabada. And (he) broke the American record. So that made for an exciting day for us. The Bobby Crim (10M), which is in the end of August, it’s one of the old standard races. This is the 30th year. They’ve been an institution in Michigan for all those years, raised a lot of money for charity.”

    The level of prize and incentive money a race can offer obviously plays an enormous part in the recruiting of each field. The Crim, according to Meyer, is no exception. “Obviously it’s been a tough go from the glory years because of the auto industry and sponsorships and things,” related Meyer. “We try to bring in as many good people as we can. It’s a very small travel budget. I mean we can’t go out and pay appearance fees and those kinds of things. It’s a very small budget. But one of the things you find now, if you have any kind of prize money, the foreigners will show up. And the only other thing which saves us with a few Americans is the Hanson’s group (Brooks-Hansons Original Distance Project) which is just down the road from us. We offer Michigan money, so there’s a whole prize category just for Michigan residents, so the Hanson’s group does OK there. They come in and race well. But it’s really changed its complexion over the years, the Crim race. It’s tough timing. It’s the end of the summer season, really, and a lot of the U.S. guys that might want to come, nine days later would be running the 20K Championships in New Haven. So it makes it tough to get some of the top Americans there simply because they may go Beach to Beacon, Falmouth, Crim would be the next week, and then the following week would be the 20K, (and) they’re gonna skip a week.”
    Greg-Meyer.jpg
    In the old days many races were gravitating toward becoming demonstration races, where one to five athletes with reputations received appearance money to come in and put on an exhibition. The ARRA (Association of Road Racing Athletes) and now PRRO (Professional Road Racing Organization) were created to foster open racing. Yet by having fields open, sometimes an event does not attract the domestic heroes and heroines they would like to increase participation numbers, sponsorships and media exposure. Meyer was asked whether the Crim has considered both open and invited fields at the front. “At this point I do that at the River Bank Run, where we will fly in only a specific number of foreigners. Now, if they want to come on their own, that’s fine—absolutely. We only go three deep in the prize money, so it doesn’t take long from them to realize, ‘Oh, in the pecking order, this could be a wasted plane ticket for me.’ At the Crim, philosophically they don’t want to do that (revert solely to invited fields). We’ve had discussions and I think they’ll let it play out for another year or so, and evaluate that. I think there are some things that we could do differently. There’s a new race director in the last year, so it’s all changed. And it’s only the second year I’ve been there doing it, so it’s like anything else: you get comfortable with how things were done. And it was always done—in fact what they used to do was only reimburse people for their airfares as they placed. Well, a wave of foreigners are going to come in there, and you’re never going to have an American make any money, or get any travel money. So it dries up real quick. It would be sort of American protectionism. But again, it’s a discussion they need to have to determine what’s best for the health of their race and the sponsors and the media. Because that’s what drives all this. If you can’t write the stories, if you don’t have a compelling story behind the race, then it becomes tougher.”

    At that point in our discussion with Meyer, Jones was also present, and the subject turned to what might be different today with the Africans playing far more prominently in distance running. “I think there were differences in that, when we looked at foreigners in the past, it was Steve Jones and a lot of the Europeans who were at the top of the game,” Meyer elaborated. “Very few Kenyans were in the marathon, really back in the 80s. They were more track athletes. The wave hadn’t hit yet. So I think that’s a difference now than it was 20 years ago. We used to bitch about those Brits all the time, you know (laughter). And others. But I don’t think the training has changed dramatically. I think there’s fewer people willing to do the training. And I think what’s missing, too, is that even for those who are doing the training, for some reason they’re not gaining the confidence they need from that training to race. We were talking about that the other day. Meb (Keflezighi) and (Alan) Culpepper. Meb should have run 2-7 (2:07). If you look at his time, he’s so much more talented than I ever was. And the way Boston was set up and all those things, he—on paper, in theory—should have run much faster. And I think these guys go into races, hoping something goes right, that they’re there at the end, as opposed to making something happen during the race. I mean, Bill Rodgers, even if he had a doubt in his mind he was…he was still gonna hit you in the middle of the race with somethin’ just to test you to make sure you were legit. I mean he was gonna hurt you somewhere along the line. Jonesy, he would always be bustin’ your balls. I don’t see our guys taking a chance like that. I see them hoping they’re there with two or three miles to go and maybe havin’ a chance. But they’re not doing anything to create the race for themselves.” Jones apparently agrees with much of what Meyer related. “Same as he said (laughs),” quipped the Welshman before turning serious. “I think there’s always been a nature in the U.S. of protectionism. It’s in your blood, I think, throughout all levels of society, not necessarily just at a sporting level. But back in our day—when Greg and I were racing each other quite a lot—there were also people like Jon Sinclair, Bill Reifsnyder and a bunch of other guys, and Jon didn’t care about the foreigners coming in. And he would attack and attack and attack. He was probably—well he was the best road racer in America for many years. But he relished it. And that’s the difference then (compared to) that’s happening now. Over the last 10 years or so I suppose there’s been a concerted effort to try and protect American runners, I think. Have road races with American-only prize money, and shut out the rest of the world. And all you’re doing then is promoting mediocrity.”

    There can be no doubt that the USA Running Circuit (USARC) races offer opportunities through merit for many Americans to receive post-collegiate support by proving themselves in racing. The questions remain as to whether they are graduating to the big leagues, or are being prepared for international competition? “To be honest with you, I don’t know enough about that circuit, so I can’t really comment.” answered Jones. “Greg probably knows more about that than I do. But you know, should there be help out there? Yah, there should be. Is there more help being made available now? I think there is, in terms of the newer club systems and the training groups and the farm teams and stuff like that. I think you’re seeing a crop of distance runners now in America that are a lot stronger, a lot tougher, that certainly know how to race a little better than they used to. And they’re more mature now, as well. And I’m not talking about a mature 23 year old, but they’re 26, 27, 29 or 30 years of age. And that’s what it takes to get to that level. You mature to that level. You don’t leave school and come straight into the road circuit or straight into the marathon.” Jones adds that it isn’t necessarily about a lack of aggression. “I don’t think they have the experience,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s necessarily about being aggressive. Because when you get people running a marathon at 23 years of age just to see how they’ll run, or they can run the distance, I think that’s bad coaching, that’s bad advice and it’s bad decision making by somebody.”
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    Plaatjes then arrived to join in, and soon embarked upon a number of points relevant to the current progress of American males or lack of same. “I think a small part of it is that it is cyclical, you know. About 10 years ago the Mexicans were dominating, even though the Africans were running. And so things will go around, and now it looks like there’s a good crop of young Americans coming up, and they’ve got a lot of potential. I think the problem is multi-factorial. I think we touched on earlier about the aggressiveness of racing, of going to a race and sticking your head in the front regardless of whether—and not being conservative. You know, if you die, you die. But you get the experience of what it is, running at that pace, and you learn, you learn what to do the next time. And that’s one part of it. You know Meb (Keflezighi) has done it somewhat, but a lot of the top guys are really running conservatively. Secondly, I think a lot of the young kids, they come out of college and they get into these huge contracts, and so they’re really not—in my opinion—not that hungry. They don’t have to do a whole lot. And we could mention a number of examples, but (contractually) they don’t have to do a whole lot. You know, they’re very content. The third thing is I think a lot of the American runners are content to be big fish in the small bowl, other than being a big fish on the world stage. And then lastly, I think a lot of American kids want it all. They want to have the social life; they want to have the house; they want to have everything. And whereas there’s got to be some sacrifice somewhere, in order to do this. So those are some things I think are definitely an influence on Americans being dominant in Greg’s age and Benji’s (Durden’s) age, when 2:20 was not even a non-factor. It was mediocre, yah. I remember when I came over here, I went to the San Diego Marathon, I was doing a training run, and going to run a training run 2:16. Now 2:16, people can make money off that. It’s become so mediocre, it’s become so bad that the bar—and now they want to lower the standard even further. And it should be raised, so that the mindset changes, so that 2:12, 2:10 is OK. It’s not great. If you run 2:10 in Europe, you’re not making a living. If you’re running 2:10 in the U.S., you can make a really good living right now. And that’s a sad reflection.”
    End Part I (next issue – the trio addresses funding dollars and sense) – RS…
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  • #21650

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Very interesting. Thanks for posting that. There's a lot to think about in that. I think I've seen all of those factors mentioned before and I've come to agree with them over time but it's interesting to see these three guys discuss the factors.

    Can't wait for part 2.

  • #21651

    GTF
    Member

    It is indeed an interesting piece, though it generates little in the way of discussion – which was not all that surprising for the first message board on which I posted it – yet perhaps putting it up here will yield better results in that regard.

  • #21652

    GTF
    Member

    Part II:
    http://runningstats.com/Pages/927/Players.html

    In Part I of our collective interview concerning how Americans and British men might return to the win columns again in international racing, Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes and Greg Meyer—three who have paid some very productive dues—all stressed taking risk in marathoning as essential in winning the big ones…

    In Part II, Jones continues the dialogue with a discussion of certain funding elements of the club system. His opinion is that coaches should be supported through payments from their athletes. “The thing to remember is that these guys are really trying,” commented the Welshman about the young post-collegiate runners of today. “They are trying their best. Maybe it’s the coaching. Maybe they don’t have the hero to look up to and the motivation. And there is no support system outside the local running clubs and local teams. There’s no support from the USATF. And the support goes to the wrong people. It’s like Brad Hudson’s team. He’s got guys on his team earning $100,000 a year, and the team still gets a part of that budget that comes out of New York Road Runners. Which isn’t fair. Not fair to the Hanson’s, not fair to the other teams that are trying to put not an elite team together. But that’s where you find your heroes of tomorrow, your champions of tomorrow, of ground-level people. Coaching with them and working with them to try and get them to raise the bar. It shouldn’t go to the top people. I remember when I started earning money, and all of a sudden everybody wanted to give a fund. I had a trust fund and the board wanted to give me money to run races, and everybody else wanted to give me money. I didn’t need the money, it was the guys behind me. I needed the money three years ago, and that’s what’s happening today.”

    While Jones may feel benefactors might apportion their donations somewhat differently, he is well aware that these generous donations have begun to show results, witness the American showings this summer on the tracks of Europe. Meyer extolled their progress, as well. “Steve touched on the club system, and I think that’s making an impact,” said the last U.S. male to win in Beantown. “I think that’s why. You saw at least a wave of guys run well at Boston this year. But what was interesting, is it’s the first time they’ve shown up at Boston. I mean, because they hadn’t been there in years before. And part of that credit, there’s a new board at the B.A.A. that wants to help and do some things. The Hansons’ (Hansons-Brooks Distance Project) Group is one of the clubs. I look at them—and I’m biased because I know those guys now—but, they’re out racing; they’re committed to the sport; they want their guys in different places. And when they show up, they just don’t show up and race, they show up and do whatever is expected of them at a race. And they do it with a smile on their faces, happy to be there. It’s like—no offense—we enjoyed our sport. These guys come in and treat it like a business. It’s a transaction. Got the race done, I’m in, I’m gone. And it’s like, I don’t know where that passion is.” Jones also commented regarding the quick-in and quick-out racing attitude of many athletes. “I don’t agree with flyin’ in the day before and flyin’ out straight after the race. Because that does nothing for the sport. It just takes out.” Part of the problem may be race directors taking back control of certain elements of their events when they have provided air transportation or hotel rooms, or both. “But the race directors aren’t organized enough to do that,” continued Meyer. “So that may happen in one place, but they’ll all go somewhere else and they don’t give a crap.”

    All three of our interviewees feel a set of guidelines for the rights and responsibilities of both athletes and races should be appropriate. “There has to be a code of ethics on both sides of the border, of course,” said Jones. “But if you are brought into a race and are given a room and a flight, then there are certain obligations, and you shouldn’t be allowed to leave town until at least a day after the race.” Jones, Plaatjes and Meyer feel that it is then no surprise when many races still rely upon affable personalities from the past to brighten up their event. “Yah, I was just mentioning the fact that Steamboat has brought Steve, Greg and myself out to this race,” related Plaatjes. “We’re not even competing, but why do you think we’re here? Because we formed relationships with these guys, and they want us here because we add something to the event. Young guys come and talk to us—we really do add something to the event. And this is what these young guys are missing. Is that, you come to an event, you form a relationship, and it will be a relationship for a very long term, for life. And this is not happening, this is the problem. People come in, race, get their prize money, and they’re out the next day. You know how this (Steamboat Classic 4M) weekend goes. People stay around. We go out and we go to have dinner, we go out and dance. We stay, we run (the Sunday) Boredom (Run), we have breakfast, and then we leave. And that’s what makes this race great. And all race directors should be held responsible to say, ‘If we book your tickets, this is what’s going to happen. If this doesn’t happen, you cannot come.’”

    Jones even feels penalties, such are levied in other sports, should prove effective in mandating participation in the entire agenda of an event. “Fine them,” he stressed. “If they win prize money and they’re not at a certain place at a certain time, fine them.” Meyer agrees. “You don’t fulfill your obligation, we’re going to take ten percent off the top. But none of them (race directors) have the guts to do it.” “You’re a race director, you could start it,” Jones responded to Meyer. “We tell people exactly what our expectations are, and here’s where you have to be, and if you don’t show up at the awards,” Meyer answered regarding the events with which he works. “Because regardless of the fact that, OK, you might piss somebody off,” continued Jones, “and they say, ‘OK, we’re not coming back next year—’” “I don’t want ‘em back,” countered Meyer. “Nobody cares, nobody cares. The media doesn’t care, the other athletes don’t care. And you wouldn’t care—the race directors don’t care. Because at the end of the day the sad thing about our sport is that the race will still go on. That’s not the sad thing: the sad thing is they can do without us. And I say us, I mean the guys that are running today.”

    Plaatjes then interjected that a lot of races are going away from invited athletes. “Because that’s not what draws the interest, any more,” opined Jones. “It’s raising five million dollars for leukemia, or human interest stories of trying to run PRs and break personal records. That’s what it’s all about now.” Plaatjes feels that the current direction of road racing is changing: “There’s a really interesting thing happening in running,” remarked the former world marathon champion. “In that we have huge increases in numbers. Marathons are selling out way in advance, all of this. However, if you look at where this is being driven by, it’s being driven by a number of people who have now found out that running can be a social event. I can meet with five, six ladies and we can drop our kids off at school, and we can meet and we can go for a run, we can get our exercise in. Perhaps we can socialize. And we can go to a race and it doesn’t have to be a race. We can just go and participate. That’s where the numbers are coming from. And those are not the people who are interested in—OK, how fast did they run this race? They don’t know who won, they don’t care, and that’s where a lot of race directors are getting their feedback from. You know, when you have a 50,000-people race and the prize money is $5,000, give me a break. It should be $20,000. It should be 20-deep.”

    Jones still feels there is room for ambassadors of the sport. “This is why we’re still involved,” said the former marathon world recordholder. “Because we are the interest now. It’s not Korir or Khannouchi or anybody else. Because we are their connection to the mass crowds now.” Meyer concurs with Plaatjes and Jones. “Really, I think the guy who epitomizes that the most is Bill Rodgers…People know him. They’ll walk up and Bill will pretend he knows every one of them, and sit and talk with them to the end of the day. And you guys have been the same as that. These guys now don’t do that. And it’s just different. But your point about the only reason some races will bring in elites, and why you may see some races revert back to appearance money, is all they want out of the media is announcing the names who are coming. If they can build media into the event going in, it helps drive some of their numbers. And it helps their sponsors and all the other stuff. But without that element to it, after the race, they’re not interviewing these guys anymore. These guys get done and they’re gone. They don’t care. So that’s the only reason some of these races are still going for elite athletes, is that they are building the front end of the story. It’s not afterwards. Nobody cares who wins. It’s, can we build the story around the pre-race event?”

    The three were then asked what suggestions they might have to improve the future of the sport. “It depends upon whether you’re looking at it from an athlete’s perspective or a race director’s perspective,” answered Jones. “As an athlete’s perspective, an athlete has to be held to certain standards, certain obligations, a certain code of ethics, whether it’s written by ARRA or PRRO or RRCA. I really think there has to be some kind of—we tried to do it with ARRA—a code of ethics, where you have certain obligations for showing up, regardless of whether you get an appearance fee or not, if they pay your hotels and your airfare. Your obligation is there right away. I think that race directors have to be more honest with each other, as a profession and as an organization, and be willing to stand up and say, ‘You’re not coming to my race again. You didn’t fulfill…’—which means you have to miss the next race, or the next race. So there has to be some kind of penalty for that.”

    Plaatjes thinks moving to bigger ponds is the only way for an athlete to test him- or herself seriously. “I sincerely believe that if a lot of the young American runners change their mindset about competition—and guys like Dathan are doing it a little bit—but going to the big stakes, going to Europe and racing the cross country season,” he suggests. “Running USA Cross Nationals doesn’t do anything to get you ready for World Cross. You should be over there racing the European cross country season. You need to go and run four or five races before you go to run World Cross, and to get in the fray, and just get dirty. They just need to do that. They just need to stop—sponsors, shoe companies, all of those guys—stop making this the Big Pond. They need to say, ‘You need to be going over there and racing these guys and showing them.’ They need to make these guys hungry. And I know a lot of the young Americans will completely disagree with this, from an outsider perspective I really believe that.” Or maybe they need simply to take more risk domestically. “Like all these Hansons guys here today, and Justin (Young) as well,” adds Jones. “They’re hungry for it.”

    Plaatjes then observed that lack of money often promotes hunger. “None of these guys have $150,000 contracts,” he emphasized. “I know, but that should be one of the motivating things,” responded Jones. “Not the motivating thing, but certainly one of the motivating things to try and get them to raise their standards and run. I think it’s the right motivation, and I think the right motivation should (also) be coming from their peers and their coaches. I really think that’s where it’s going to come from. I’m not a coach—well, I’m a coach by experience. I’m not an educated coach, I’m not a scientific coach. And it seems to be workin’ for a bunch of (Boulder Express) guys I’m workin’ with. And they’re motivated, we’re all motivated, every single one of them. We have a great social thing, we get together for barbecues, but I think that’s where it starts. And once again, it’s the club level, and it’s a bunch of guys that just want to get better. They’re not looking for Olympic Trials and Olympic gold medals, they just want to get better.”…
    End Part II (Final Part – and RS obervations, coming soon…) – RS

  • #21653

    GTF
    Member

    http://runningstats.com/Pages/928/Players.html

    In the final part of our interview series with Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes, and Greg Meyer, the three continue their commentary on what they feel may bolster the American and British winning of races at an international level, as well as a few suggestions as to what they might envision as helpful long distance running industry changes for the future.

    “I think we’ve touched on a lot of different things,” Meyer summarized. “I think the club system should continue to grow. I think we need to be more equitable in how we disperse funds. (Including) USA Track & Field. I don’t think one entity should determine where they spend their money, because it starts to look like appearance fees as opposed to, ‘Hi, we want to help the sport, let’s divvy the money up among all of them.’ I think the discussion around holding athletes accountable to—or having the responsibilities to the races they go to. Somebody could draft a simple document, a one-pager, that says ‘These are your responsibilities when you go to a race. If you don’t sign this going into the race, you don’t get travel money, you don’t get a hotel room. You’re on your own.’ And I think races would buy into that. And it’s a very simple document. You’re going to show up at the pre-race press conference; you’re going to show up at the race; you’re going to do the press conference; and if you want to do a dinner before, that’s fine. And if you accept airfare money, you may have to do a clinic. Because you know what, that’s what we’re asking you to do.

    (Then) The agents. The agents need to take a different view of the sport. It’s not about makin’ money. And they need to take a different view on how they treat their athletes. I think there ought to be standards for who represents athletes. There are people out there that have no business representing athletes. You’ll have athletes show up at your door for a race, you didn’t know they were comin’. Oh, the agent just lied to them. You say, ‘What are you doin’ here?’ and they say, ‘Oh, my agent said I’m in.’ ‘Ohhh…’ I answer. They’re so unprofessional. If you want to get a photograph of an athlete who’s coming to your race, you can’t do it. Where do you go? I mean, it’s all about money. It’s all them just…you know? And (as an elite athlete coordinator) I’ll see—half the time they want to send an athlete in so they don’t have to feed them that week. (laughter from someone) I’m serious! It’s sad. And it’s sad for the athlete, but we’re letting these agents that aren’t professional get away with it. I also think some of the agents who are very professional take a short-term view of the athletes and the sport.”

    “They’re not cultivating careers,” added Plaatjes. “They’re not cultivating careers and they’re not cultivating the sport,” agreed Meyer. “And I know it’s easy to point to America and say it’s an American thing. But it’s not just an American thing. It’s everywhere. In the U.K., I mean those guys have protectionism over there, too. They’re only going to let so many people in. The London Marathon controls their field. You’re protecting your sponsors. You’re trying to create a product that people want to buy, that want to watch, that they want to participate in. But I think the agents need to step up. I think the athletes (too). I think what’s a perfect example that Steve was talking about was the young guys not making a lot of money. I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoy watching the Hanson’s group so much. These were not the ‘A’ level athletes coming out of college. It’s just a bunch of hungry guys—that you know what?—if they make a bonus, wonderful. They don’t have…but it’s hunger. And ‘I want to see how good I can get.’ That’s it. These other guys come out, and I don’t want to say—you know what—we did our sport a disservice when we got ARRA going and everything else. We just had the wrong people managing USA Track & Field that were back then TAC. But there were rules. You couldn’t go everywhere. I mean, you had to get permission, and…you were held accountable.”

    Plaatjes feels potential mentoring by some past great performers often is overlooked. “An interesting thing to me, and I’m just choosing Boulder, because that’s where I live. You have Steve Jones; you have myself; you have Arturo Barrios; you have Frank Shorter; you have Benji Durden; you have Lorraine Moller; you have Uta Pippig; you have Colleen De Reuck; you have Nadia Prasad. Do you think any of the young guys that live in Boulder has ever come up to me and said, ‘Do you have any advice for me, on what to do in the marathon?’ No. Has anyone asked you, Jonesy?” “Not really, no,” the Welsh former world recordholder answered. “Apart from your group,” added Plaatjes. “No,” Jones again replied. “No. I know for a fact,” continued Plaatjes. “Arturo Barrios has had the world record over 10K. Do you think Dathan or any of those guys have spoken to Arturo about advice? No! Why not? These guys have been there, have done that. They’ve learned so much. They’ve made mistakes. And maybe you don’t need to reinvent the wheel if you talk to these guys.” Keeping in mind that almost everyone uses examples of those in their own back yard, such as Dathan Ritzenhein, Colleen De Reuck or Jorge Torres in Boulder where Jones and Plaatjes live, similarly Meyer lives in Michigan and just as often uses club team members from his State as examples. “It’s funny but the Hanson’s group does,” he explained. “The Hanson’s group will ask me, they’ll ask others. They want to bring in all the information they can. And to me, that’s what it’s about.” And that is exactly the point Plaatjes was making. “Absolutely, absolutely,” added the Stuttgart IAAF World Champs gold medalist. “The guys are not utilizing the resources that are available to them. And I just choose Boulder, because that’s what I know. It’s a prime example, that…Why don’t these guys go, with Jonesy, Mark, Arturo, ‘We’d like to buy you a beer. Just want to chat.’”

    Meyer believes the federation could take a more active role in athlete development. “Look at USA Track & Field, that should do all these young development things and stuff like that,” the last U.S. male winner of the Boston Marathon critiqued. “How come they never bring in athletes to sit down and talk? Talk about not just the wins, the failures. How do you get past this?” Still, Meyer remains optimistic about the future of American distance running. “Being the only born-American here, and single guy, happy guy—no (laughter), I look and see for the first time in a number of years, opportunity for American distance runners. I don’t know what’s going on in Europe, I don’t know if they have developmental programs going on. It used to be, Europe was a hotbed for distance running. They’re just a bunch of hard-assed guys who used to race. I don’t see that like I used to. But I see the guys looking back now at what worked in the 70s and early 80s and trying to recreate it. They’re trying. I really see the effort trying. But it’s hard because of the money. We didn’t have the money that corrupted it until into the 80s. But in the 70s, man, we were running faster.”

    Jones concurred. “And you’re hungry, and I think that’s a part of it. But it would be interesting to make a comparison as to why the women responded worldwide, and in the U.S. why the women responded to the African invasion. And the men have never responded to it.” Meyer believes the reason may be because women were only allowed to move up in distance in relatively modern times. “People were hungry as a sport. In the old days, there wasn’t even a marathon for women until ’84. So, it’s new to them and they’re hungry. They were never given the opportunity to be athletic, except in things that men deemed they were suitable to participate in. I think that Title 9 in the U.S. has made a huge difference in the NCAA. But I also think Title 9 has hurt on the men’s side of Olympic sports because a lot of the funding has gone away. I think in the U.S., the U.S. Olympic Committee ought to be putting money into the colleges for Olympic sports, because that’s their breeding ground. You know, they don’t do that. It’s crazy. They have all these facilities, and it’s like, they ought to be putting scholarships out there. They ought to be doin’ something. To me the USOC is, again, they throw money where they traditionally throw it, and it ’s a waste being flushed down the toilet. Put the money where your developing athletes—right in the U.S. Like it or not, it’s the colleges…I think the training clubs that are out there now, whether it’s (Team Running USA) California, (Brooks) Hanson’s (Distance Project), the group in Colorado (Boulder Performance Training Group) with Brad (Hudson), it’s all having positive results. I think it’s great that outside entities are putting money into that philosophy and backing it up. But I think there does need to be controls over how that money is distributed. If it just goes to one or two clubs, it looks like appearance money. It’s what Steve talked about: the rich are getting richer. It’s about developing a group of people, if that’s what they’re after, and there needs to be some equity. They need to hand that over to USA Track & Field, and say, ‘We’re making a contribution to the development of the sport. You distribute the money equally to the clubs out there that you’ve been associated with.’ I don’t think it should be up to the entity that they get to pick and choose what clubs. That’s a dangerous road, because quite honestly, it’s appearance money…

    End – RS

  • #21654

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Thanks for posting those. There is so much I could comment on but I think there is too much. I hope everyone has read this and taken the time to think about what they are talking about. I also hope that these articles get a lot of visibility around the sport. It's a very important topic for those of us who care about the sport and there are many very thoughtful comments made by those who have been at the top and are here to see the state of the sport in this country now.

  • #21655

    GTF
    Member

    De nada.

    There is so much I could comment on but I think there is too much.

    Oh, come on — I will confront and assail you verbally again if I must.  8)
    We could always copy/paste and break it into more focussed threads . . . actually, I will post the follow-up commentary now, that might be a better place to begin.

  • #21656

    GTF
    Member

    http://runningstats.com/Pages/931/Players.html

    As a response to our recent three-part Steve Jones-Mark Plaatjes-Greg Meyer interview and RS follow-up, USATF LDR Chair Glenn Latimer commented by e-mail and telephone about a couple of related issues to concerns Greg Meyer had about athletes showing up to events at the last minute.

    “The situation at the moment is that we still have people in the country on Student or Visitor Visas, both of which preclude earning prize money,” explains Latimer. “And this visa process has been tightened up since 911…This doesn’t have to do with any race, whether the athletes are Irish, Mexican, Kenyan, etc. It has to do with the professionalization of road running and ensuring that races can pay prize money within the rules. So open prize money needs to be clearly defined.” Latimer says this isn’t the reinvention of the wheel, that he and others were discussing this matter as far back as 1984: “You don’t play on the PGA Tour unless you’re a card-carrying member, and likewise, why do we allow people to come here to earn money unless they’re approved professionals? It seems our approach is amateurish at best.” However, a USATF Board discussion is underway to make U.S. racing more professional. “USATF is strongly pursuing the idea of a registration process for foreign athletes in order for them to compete in prize money races in the USA,” explains Latimer. “This process would verify the athlete’s ability to be eligible to earn money in the USA by having the appropriate P1 Visa and not a B1/B2 Visitor’s Visa, which specifically precludes earning money per INS/IRS regulations. Such a registration process would greatly assist events in knowing which athletes were truly eligible to compete here…These foreign athletes would then have to prove that they are coming to the USA with the appropriate visa in order to earn money. The example would be if Mick Jagger comes to play in Madison Square Garden he doesn’t come here on a Visitor’s Visa. He comes here under at P1 visa, with is an artist or athlete of exceptional skill entitled by that visa to earn money in the United States…It would also ‘professionalize’ the process more, so that elite athlete coordinators were not faced with the last-minute invasion of foreign athletes into their events, who do not contribute to the event and usually are unable to interact with sponsors and the media.” Latimer says that the registration and fees process would have an ancillary benefit. “About nine or ten months ago at the USATF Board meeting, USADA came and made a presentation. Travis Tygart explained that USADA doesn’t have the funding to do out-of-competition testing for athletes who aren’t necessarily their responsibility. Their own federations should be doing this. But we know that some of these federations are not doing out-of-competition testing. So USADA does have a responsibility for the top American athletes in out-of-competition testing and would happily be responsible for the foreign athletes if the funding were available. And this ties in with the 1984 idea that you must belong to the professional organization in order to earn any form of prize money in the United States…If all athletes pay to be carded by having to belong to this professional organization, these are events that have to be sanctioned and certified by USATF. Then USATF would issue guidelines on approved athletes to compete. It’s only open if you’re approved. So all athletes, including Americans, have to pay a fee to be registered to compete. As a hypothetical, if Americans pay $30 to join USATF and the fee is established at $100 to be registered, then they pay an additional $70 and foreigners pay $100. Then there would be an approved list. These funds would be used to maintain an up-to-date list of approved athletes for the use of events, and would also provide a fund to give USADA the ability to test more athletes both in and out of competition…These ideas are being presented at Road Race Management Conference in October to gain feedback from races. In addition, it would seem to make sense that USATF issues guidelines to prize money races regarding the awarding of prize money to foreign athletes, as it is complex, and most events will not understand the nuances of visas.”

    Latimer also wrote to Crim 10M and First Third River Bank Run elite athlete coordinator Meyer that the registration process would avoid certain ‘letter of invitation’ scams: “As an elite athlete coordinator you mentioned that you frequently receive e-mails from athletes requesting a letter of invitation to the event. Usually these e-mail requests come from Morocco, Kenya, Algeria, Ethiopia and some Eastern bloc countries, and they give brief details of the athlete (usually not verifiable with a Google search) and then they state that the person will take care of their own travel and expenses to get to the event, and all they need is an official letter of invitation from the event. These e-mails are invariably SCAMS. I have been an elite athlete coordinator for over twenty-three years. I have yet to see a genuine request in such e-mails. My advice is to hit the delete button on such e-mails as these are purely people pretending to be athletes so that they can use the letter of invitation to apply for a visa to the USA and then disappear here. The only time a letter of invitation is appropriate is when a proper athletic agent requests one for an athlete who is seeking a P1 Visa, and later when he/she is due to enter the USA in order to ease their way through USA Customs/Immigration.” Latimer again asserts the whole visa/registration process may help alleviate the last-minute arrival of athletes seeking only prize money to events. “All elite athlete coordinators face a last-minute invasion of athletes who want to come to their event, who want to win prize money. The events and the elite athlete coordinators do not like this. Because there are demands for travel and hotel long after such budgets are spent, and the events feel that the athletes are there purely to take prize money rather than to contribute to the event. In the recent Jones-Plaatjes-Meyer interview they all spoke of the need for events and athletes to work together to promote the sport.” Latimer apportions some of the blame for problematic last-minute entries on certain athletic agents. “There are some agents that are completely professional in their dealing with events, and there are others who seem to have no concern for the events.”

    Brendan Reilly has a reputation as one of the more reputable professional agents in the sport, and writes to Running Stats to encourage further discussion, but more importantly to address certain top athletes’ perspectives of long stays and related commitments to road races. “I very much enjoyed the long RS roundtable discussion with Steve, Mark, and Greg,” writes Reilly. “Lots of good points to hopefully stimulate discussion in the running community and contribute to the ongoing improvements in US running…I could respond to many of the points, but two in particular jump out, one on the agent side, one on the training side…Greg’s comments about athletes scooting in and out of races need to be taken with a grain of salt. Granted, there can be many instances of athletes or agents trying often to book flights out of race cities as soon as possible after the awards ceremonies. On the other hand, many events have simply made little or no provision on how to use their elite athletes either before or after the competition. Some events require athletes to be present for press conferences as early as the Thursday before an event, yet then never do anything with them but have them stand for about a second and a half when their name is introduced at the opening press conference. With no appearance money, and with many races dropping down to $500 or less after the top three or five finishers, it can be frustrating for athletes to go down from altitude or interrupt their final pre-race training to go to a race city and basically sit in the hotel for three days before the competition…Likewise after the race, if organizers have made no plans to use their elite athletes in post-race activities, then why is there a problem for them to leave after the awards ceremony? When was the last time you saw a race director set up a post-race meet-and-greet area and announce to the spectators at an awards ceremony, ‘And right after the awards ceremony, please come up and meet our top finishers/winners. They will all be available for autographs and to take photos with you all.’? The Honolulu Marathon has a great situation where they still have their Runners Expo open on Monday morning, and everybody can come there and meet their men’s and women’s champions for autographs and a quick chat. Or how many have considered duplicating the infamous Boredom Run in Peoria on the morning after the Steamboat Classic, where all the local Peoria runners can come out and do a run with many of the elite athletes? LaSalle Bank always has a couple of top athletes come in to bank headquarters during the week of Chicago to have lunch and chat with the bank’s employees who will also run in the marathon. These are all great examples, but sadly lacking at most events…I don’t think athletes or agents are opposed to such activities, it is just that so few events have really planned on how to use their elite athletes.”

    Reilly suggests that if events want more time and effort from athletes, the compensation might increase. “Comments that ‘it’s all about the money’ do a disservice to the competitive instincts of elite athletes. Sure, athletes are making a living from the sport, but nobody is getting rich from winning $500 for 3rd or 5th place at some events. As Mark implied, when a major road race pays no appearance money, pulls in some 50,000 entrants and thereby earns over $2 million just in entry fees, and the top prize is under $10,000 and 5th place under $1,000, the professional aspect of the sport does not seem to be properly balanced. If some directors really need their entire invited field to be around for 4-5 days, sharing the wealth should be considered.”  Acknowledging that there is scope for athletes, agents, and directors to work together to increase the total pool, Reilly also addresses the media’s frustration on language skills. “Although we see a steady overall improvement in English language skills of foreign athletes competing in the US, and more and more agents encouraging the language skills of their top athletes, the fact is that newer or developing athletes are severely limited. Certainly at major events in major cities, there could be a budget to hire Swahili, Amharic, and one or two other interpreters to be on hand on race day. “One of the saddest things I ever saw in this aspect was a Kenenisa Bekele award presentation ceremony in 2004. While being recognized he was given an English-language acceptance speech by reading comments ever so slowly off a distant teleprompter. Here we are trying to present one of our top male athletes to the world in a rewarding manner, and rather than hire a fluent interpreter to convey all the joy and spirit of Kenenisa’s acceptance, the organizers of the ceremony left him on his own to stumble through his comments in a foreign language.”

    Reilly says he has had the same experience as Plaatjes when it comes to younger athletes failing to seek the advice of those who have succeeded either currently or in the past: “On the training side, I couldn’t agree more with Mark’s comments about the lack of younger athletes coming to the vets and asking for advice. Probably more than most agents, I get involved on the training side with my athletes, mainly because I help set up the logistics for about 200 foreign runners per year coming out to Boulder to train. Just in the women’s marathon, at the past eight World Championships and Olympic Games, we’ve had a hand in helping seven women win a total eight medals, as well as something like 40-50 women go sub-2:30:00, including 20-25 at sub-2:25:00. Aside from Andrew Letherby of Australia and Mara Yamauchi of the UK, no athlete or coach has really asked me any detailed questions about Japanese or Romanian training. I am sure Tom Ratcliffe and Dieter Hogan would share a similar experience, despite their group’s marathon wins at Chicago, Boston, and London, as well as across the US road circuit.”

    Once again, the purpose of all of these expressed opinions which RS presents is to encourage dialogue and constructive change. Reilly, for one, agrees that while anyone of us may agree or disagree with what is said by others, it stimulates dialogue. “Overall, good piece,” he wrote of the three-part interview with Jones-Plaatjes-Meyer, “that hopefully will spark more conversations.”…RS

  • #21657

    GTF
    Member
    Jonesy wrote:
    I think you’re seeing a crop of distance runners now in America that are a lot stronger, a lot tougher, that certainly know how to race a little better than they used to. And they’re more mature now, as well. And I’m not talking about a mature 23 year old, but they’re 26, 27, 29 or 30 years of age. And that’s what it takes to get to that level. You mature to that level. You don’t leave school and come straight into the road circuit or straight into the marathon.” Jones adds that it isn’t necessarily about a lack of aggression. “I don’t think they have the experience,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s necessarily about being aggressive. Because when you get people running a marathon at 23 years of age just to see how they’ll run, or they can run the distance, I think that’s bad coaching, that’s bad advice and it’s bad decision making by somebody.”
    Steve-Jones.jpg
    This appears to be a rather direct dig at a certain NYCM debutante and his 'coach'.  In this case he is likely correct, that the person in question, as with most any other US road racer that age who is a product of the scholastic system and perhaps even moreso than his typical peers, needs to get some more seasoning against world class competition, on the roads and otherwise, before stepping into a shark tank such as NYCM.  Just look at what happened to Cabada, who is certainly quite talented and accomplished to nearly a similar degree, at his last race against a world class field; he tanked, whether that was due nerves or not having an established prerace routine that works or whatever else.  However, at least Cabada has been willing to get out there often and get after it against whomever so he has been building up real experience in competition, unlike so many of his peers who race sparingly and therefore are more apt to blow up and underperform in the biggest seasonal peak races.  Plaatjes seems to echo this sentiment below.

    Plaatjes then arrived to join in, and soon embarked upon a number of points relevant to the current progress of American males or lack of same. “I think a small part of it is that it is cyclical, you know. About 10 years ago the Mexicans were dominating, even though the Africans were running. And so things will go around, and now it looks like there’s a good crop of young Americans coming up, and they’ve got a lot of potential. I think the problem is multi-factorial. I think we touched on earlier about the aggressiveness of racing, of going to a race and sticking your head in the front regardless of whether—and not being conservative. You know, if you die, you die. But you get the experience of what it is, running at that pace, and you learn, you learn what to do the next time. And that’s one part of it. You know Meb (Keflezighi) has done it somewhat, but a lot of the top guys are really running conservatively. Secondly, I think a lot of the young kids, they come out of college and they get into these huge contracts, and so they’re really not—in my opinion—not that hungry. They don’t have to do a whole lot. And we could mention a number of examples, but (contractually) they don’t have to do a whole lot. You know, they’re very content.

    Conversely, the Africans (and a few others) are quite clearly not content. 

    The third thing is I think a lot of the American runners are content to be big fish in the small bowl, other than being a big fish on the world stage. And then lastly, I think a lot of American kids want it all. They want to have the social life; they want to have the house; they want to have everything. And whereas there’s got to be some sacrifice somewhere, in order to do this.

    This is so true.

    So those are some things I think are definitely an influence on Americans being dominant in Greg’s age and Benji’s (Durden’s) age, when 2:20 was not even a non-factor. It was mediocre, yah. I remember when I came over here, I went to the San Diego Marathon, I was doing a training run, and going to run a training run 2:16. Now 2:16, people can make money off that. It’s become so mediocre, it’s become so bad that the bar—and now they want to lower the standard even further. And it should be raised, so that the mindset changes, so that 2:12, 2:10 is OK. It’s not great. If you run 2:10 in Europe, you’re not making a living. If you’re running 2:10 in the U.S., you can make a really good living right now. And that’s a sad reflection.”

    It is interesting that the Hansons can take runners who were essentially no-names in college and produce sub-2:20 marathoners.  This means that there are scores of graduating college runners every year who could be at that level or better.  They simply do not want it, they let societal pressures (the so-called American Dream of a well-paying job, new car, new house, wife and kids) act to influence them to subvert aspirations of athletic excellence.  It is considered okay to continue to the NFL or NBA because it pays so much, but time and again in interviews with pro basketball and football players it comes across clearly that while the money is nice, they do what they do and endure it all because above and beyond all the rest they simply love the game — it seems that if there were no pro leagues for football or basketball that these guys would be devoting a good chunk of their free time to playing in competitive rec leagues.  Somehow the message that unless you can make money at a given endeavor then you should not devote so much time and energy to it has seemingly become the widespread mantra, at least regarding distance running. 

  • #21658

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    In this case he is likely correct, that the person in question, as with most any other US road racer that age who is a product of the scholastic system and perhaps even moreso than his typical peers, needs to get some more seasoning against world class competition, on the roads and otherwise, before stepping into a shark tank such as NYCM.  Just look at what happened to Cabada, who is certainly quite talented and accomplished to nearly a similar degree, at his last race against a world class field; he tanked, whether that was due nerves or not having an established prerace routine that works or whatever else.  However, at least Cabada has been willing to get out there often and get after it against whomever so he has been building up real experience in competition, unlike so many of his peers who race sparingly and therefore are more apt to blow up and underperform in the biggest seasonal peak races.

    True. That said, I don't think this has to be a suicide mission. It does seem like an irregular progression and could definitely result in him getting in over his head but, even if not likely, he could use it as a stepping stone if he keeps things in perspective and realizes he's not going to keep up with the Tergats of the world yet but should expect himself to at some point in his running future.

    It is interesting that the Hansons can take runners who were essentially no-names in college and produce sub-2:20 marathoners.  This means that there are scores of graduating college runners every year who could be at that level or better.  They simply do not want it, they let societal pressures (the so-called American Dream of a well-paying job, new car, new house, wife and kids) act to influence them to subvert aspirations of athletic excellence.  It is considered okay to continue to the NFL or NBA because it pays so much, but time and again in interviews with pro basketball and football players it comes across clearly that while the money is nice, they do what they do and endure it all because above and beyond all the rest they simply love the game — it seems that if there were no pro leagues for football or basketball that these guys would be devoting a good chunk of their free time to playing in competitive rec leagues.  Somehow the message that unless you can make money at a given endeavor then you should not devote so much time and energy to it has seemingly become the widespread mantra, at least regarding distance running.

    Most definitely, there are a lot of people graduating college who could run 2:20 given the opportunity and desire. I can't blame people for moving on to a professional life but it would be nice to see more support for people who chose to pursue running. If more support existed, maybe more people would consider it a viable option. The support, with groups like the Hansons, does seem to be coming around. Hopefully, this is just a beginning.

  • #21659

    GTF
    Member

    In this case he is likely correct, that the person in question, as with most any other US road racer that age who is a product of the scholastic system and perhaps even moreso than his typical peers, needs to get some more seasoning against world class competition, on the roads and otherwise, before stepping into a shark tank such as NYCM.  Just look at what happened to Cabada, who is certainly quite talented and accomplished to nearly a similar degree, at his last race against a world class field; he tanked, whether that was due nerves or not having an established prerace routine that works or whatever else.  However, at least Cabada has been willing to get out there often and get after it against whomever so he has been building up real experience in competition, unlike so many of his peers who race sparingly and therefore are more apt to blow up and underperform in the biggest seasonal peak races.

    True. That said, I don't think this has to be a suicide mission. It does seem like an irregular progression and could definitely result in him getting in over his head but, even if not likely, he could use it as a stepping stone if he keeps things in perspective and realizes he's not going to keep up with the Tergats of the world yet but should expect himself to at some point in his running future.

    No, but playing long odds is not the path to greatest success in any endeavor, and distance running is no exception.  Since USATF's in June, Ritz has run a 5000m in July and one really competitive road race (BUPA Great North Run 1/2 marathon in the UK earlier this month) leading up to the NCYM.  Aside from those two races, he has taken on chiefly domestic competition this year.  You are correct, this might not be such a problem if he does as his coach reportedly envisions as his race plan, to hang back and run his own pace without getting caught up with Tergat, Ramaala, and their ilk.  This does indeed seem like a no-brainer.  However, Ritz has made it clear that he thinks his best performance will come as he says it has in the past (which I have not seen in passable consistency against world class fields), by mixing it up with the leaders.

    Ritzenhein declined to give a time or place prediction for New York, but said he's learned that his best races have come when he runs from the front of the pack.

    “It has been a good year, and I feel great,” he said. “I think I can compete all the way to the end. I plan to be pretty aggressive.”

    “I feel we have nothing to lose by trying a marathon right now,” said Hudson, adding that he would prefer a slower early pace for Ritzenhein at New York, to avoid the risk of going out too fast and “hitting the wall” — or running out of energy — in the final miles.

    If all they wanted was for Ritz to 'test the waters' for the marathon, he could have easily done that a couple weeks ago at TCM.  Going to NYC with the mindset he has is more akin to jumping head-first into scalding water.  I hope he proves this wrong, but right now the strong perception is that he lacks the experience to chew as big of a bite as this will be for him.

  • #21660

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    I seriously hope he does not jump into this head first. I think a great thing for him would be to run with someone like Culpepper, who he knows and I believe is very similar to in capabilities.

  • #21661

    GTF
    Member

    True, though they have significantly differing levels of experience, and even Culpepper is far less experienced than the likes of Durden, Plaatjes, Barrios, or Jones. 

  • #21662

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Well, that's why I would hope he would run with Culpepper, rely on his experience. When I ran Lakefront in 2002, I hooked up almost immediately with a guy who had immense experience. It was probably one of the smartest things I did that morning. He really helped me throughout the race. Not that I'm trying to compare myself to a runner as good as Ritz but I strongly believe there is something to the idea of a rookie marathoner hooking up with someone who has more experience.

  • #21663

    GTF
    Member

    It would likely be to his benefit to consult with a truly seasoned veteran – Held would seem to be significantly superior to Culpepper in that realm – and take it to heart but that does not mean that it has happened or will happen:

    Plaatjes feels potential mentoring by some past great performers often is overlooked. “An interesting thing to me, and I’m just choosing Boulder, because that’s where I live. You have Steve Jones; you have myself; you have Arturo Barrios; you have Frank Shorter; you have Benji Durden; you have Lorraine Moller; you have Uta Pippig; you have Colleen De Reuck; you have Nadia Prasad. Do you think any of the young guys that live in Boulder has ever come up to me and said, ‘Do you have any advice for me, on what to do in the marathon?’ No. Has anyone asked you, Jonesy?” “Not really, no,” the Welsh former world recordholder answered. “Apart from your group,” added Plaatjes. “No,” Jones again replied. “No. I know for a fact,” continued Plaatjes. “Arturo Barrios has had the world record over 10K. Do you think Dathan or any of those guys have spoken to Arturo about advice? No! Why not? These guys have been there, have done that. They’ve learned so much. They’ve made mistakes. And maybe you don’t need to reinvent the wheel if you talk to these guys.”

  • #21664

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    Well, I think everyone would be wise to talk more to the seasoned veterans, as Plaatjes mentions, but I don't think Held will be available to run with him during the race. That's where hanging with Culpepper could be beneficial.

  • #21665

    GTF
    Member

    I only referred to Held because I assumed that was your example.  From Ritzenhein's statements, it seems the only ones he cares to hang with are Tergat and Ramaala.  I suppose the point I was hoping to impart is that Ritzenhein could do even better than consulting just Culpepper, yet mysteriously has chosen not to.

  • #21666

    Ryan
    Keymaster

    No, it wasn't Held. He's still fast enough that he'd have to be doing a training run or running backwards, maybe both, for me to keep up with him. That said, when I did have the opportunity to talk with him, I did my best imitation of a sponge, soaking up everything I could get.

    He could do better than consulting just Culpepper but I think Culpepper would be a great person for him to hang with on race day. Hopefully, he doesn't get in over his head this time by trying to hang with Tergat and Ramaala. He'll have his opportunities to run that kind of race once he has the experience to do so.

  • #21667

    GTF
    Member

    Jones continues the dialogue with a discussion of certain funding elements of the club system. His opinion is that coaches should be supported through payments from their athletes. “The thing to remember is that these guys are really trying,” commented the Welshman about the young post-collegiate runners of today. “They are trying their best. Maybe it’s the coaching. Maybe they don’t have the hero to look up to and the motivation. And there is no support system outside the local running clubs and local teams. There’s no support from the USATF. And the support goes to the wrong people. It’s like Brad Hudson’s team. He’s got guys on his team earning $100,000 a year, and the team still gets a part of that budget that comes out of New York Road Runners. Which isn’t fair. Not fair to the Hanson’s, not fair to the other teams that are trying to put not an elite team together. But that’s where you find your heroes of tomorrow, your champions of tomorrow, of ground-level people. Coaching with them and working with them to try and get them to raise the bar. It shouldn’t go to the top people. I remember when I started earning money, and all of a sudden everybody wanted to give a fund. I had a trust fund and the board wanted to give me money to run races, and everybody else wanted to give me money. I didn’t need the money, it was the guys behind me. I needed the money three years ago, and that’s what’s happening today.”

    This is because it is 'development funding' in name only and a great example of Orwellian style doublespeak.  It amounts to a de facto appearance fee and of course it was only offered to groups with established domestic stars (Team USA Cali with Meb and Deena, Team USA Monterrey Bay with Blake Russell, Team USA MN with McGregor, etc.)  This is reportedly why the Hansons turned it down, the money came with strings attached. 

    While Jones may feel benefactors might apportion their donations somewhat differently, he is well aware that these generous donations have begun to show results, witness the American showings this summer on the tracks of Europe. Meyer extolled their progress, as well. “Steve touched on the club system, and I think that’s making an impact,” said the last U.S. male to win in Beantown. “I think that’s why. You saw at least a wave of guys run well at Boston this year. But what was interesting, is it’s the first time they’ve shown up at Boston. I mean, because they hadn’t been there in years before. And part of that credit, there’s a new board at the B.A.A. that wants to help and do some things. The Hansons’ (Hansons-Brooks Distance Project) Group is one of the clubs. I look at them—and I’m biased because I know those guys now—but, they’re out racing; they’re committed to the sport; they want their guys in different places. And when they show up, they just don’t show up and race, they show up and do whatever is expected of them at a race. And they do it with a smile on their faces, happy to be there. It’s like—no offense—we enjoyed our sport. These guys come in and treat it like a business. It’s a transaction. Got the race done, I’m in, I’m gone. And it’s like, I don’t know where that passion is.”

    Perhaps the culture has dried up and blown away since the '80s?  More people attending race expos or running clinics would rather listen to the Penguin regurgitate inane platitudes than whatever Sell or Culpepper might have to share. 

    Jones also commented regarding the quick-in and quick-out racing attitude of many athletes. “I don’t agree with flyin’ in the day before and flyin’ out straight after the race. Because that does nothing for the sport. It just takes out.” Part of the problem may be race directors taking back control of certain elements of their events when they have provided air transportation or hotel rooms, or both. “But the race directors aren’t organized enough to do that,” continued Meyer. “So that may happen in one place, but they’ll all go somewhere else and they don’t give a crap.”

    Perhaps race directors are too busy making sure that finishers' medals, post-race face-stuffing smorgasbord, timing chips, Jeff Galloway's limo, and countless other ancilliary things are in place to cater to the ever-slowing masses; doing something that might actually feed back into the sport like having an elite racer be around to talk with people and sign autographs comes way down the line, if at all.  It should come as no surprise if kids view the sport with a fair amount of levity, the best runners in most areas are treated as afterthoughts.

    All three of our interviewees feel a set of guidelines for the rights and responsibilities of both athletes and races should be appropriate. “There has to be a code of ethics on both sides of the border, of course,” said Jones. “But if you are brought into a race and are given a room and a flight, then there are certain obligations, and you shouldn’t be allowed to leave town until at least a day after the race.” Jones, Plaatjes and Meyer feel that it is then no surprise when many races still rely upon affable personalities from the past to brighten up their event. “Yah, I was just mentioning the fact that Steamboat has brought Steve, Greg and myself out to this race,” related Plaatjes. “We’re not even competing, but why do you think we’re here? Because we formed relationships with these guys, and they want us here because we add something to the event. Young guys come and talk to us—we really do add something to the event. And this is what these young guys are missing. Is that, you come to an event, you form a relationship, and it will be a relationship for a very long term, for life. And this is not happening, this is the problem. People come in, race, get their prize money, and they’re out the next day. You know how this (Steamboat Classic 4M) weekend goes. People stay around. We go out and we go to have dinner, we go out and dance. We stay, we run (the Sunday) Boredom (Run), we have breakfast, and then we leave. And that’s what makes this race great. And all race directors should be held responsible to say, ‘If we book your tickets, this is what’s going to happen. If this doesn’t happen, you cannot come.’”

    This would seem to require some significant organization of major race directors.  It would be nice if it could happen, of course.

    Jones even feels penalties, such are levied in other sports, should prove effective in mandating participation in the entire agenda of an event. “Fine them,” he stressed. “If they win prize money and they’re not at a certain place at a certain time, fine them.” Meyer agrees. “You don’t fulfill your obligation, we’re going to take ten percent off the top. But none of them (race directors) have the guts to do it.” “You’re a race director, you could start it,” Jones responded to Meyer. “We tell people exactly what our expectations are, and here’s where you have to be, and if you don’t show up at the awards,” Meyer answered regarding the events with which he works. “Because regardless of the fact that, OK, you might piss somebody off,” continued Jones, “and they say, ‘OK, we’re not coming back next year—’” “I don’t want ‘em back,” countered Meyer. “Nobody cares, nobody cares. The media doesn’t care, the other athletes don’t care. And you wouldn’t care—the race directors don’t care. Because at the end of the day the sad thing about our sport is that the race will still go on. That’s not the sad thing: the sad thing is they can do without us. And I say us, I mean the guys that are running today.”

    More than a few have certainly tried to, anyway.  Considering how much the average race runner cares about the sport, and how that trend has gained steam over the years, it may not be long until race directors start devoting fewer and fewer resources towards fostering competition on a more widespread basis.  This is indeed sad, and it has at least as much to do with the Penguin/Gallowalker mindset (and the group that exclusively embraces it) as anything else.

    Plaatjes then interjected that a lot of races are going away from invited athletes. “Because that’s not what draws the interest, any more,” opined Jones. “It’s raising five million dollars for leukemia, or human interest stories of trying to run PRs and break personal records. That’s what it’s all about now.” Plaatjes feels that the current direction of road racing is changing: “There’s a really interesting thing happening in running,” remarked the former world marathon champion. “In that we have huge increases in numbers. Marathons are selling out way in advance, all of this. However, if you look at where this is being driven by, it’s being driven by a number of people who have now found out that running can be a social event. I can meet with five, six ladies and we can drop our kids off at school, and we can meet and we can go for a run, we can get our exercise in. Perhaps we can socialize. And we can go to a race and it doesn’t have to be a race. We can just go and participate. That’s where the numbers are coming from. And those are not the people who are interested in—OK, how fast did they run this race? They don’t know who won, they don’t care, and that’s where a lot of race directors are getting their feedback from. You know, when you have a 50,000-people race and the prize money is $5,000, give me a break. It should be $20,000. It should be 20-deep.”

    Of course.  It seems to becoming a vicious cycle in a downward spiral of mediocrity and 'everyone is a winner' claptrap. 

    Jones still feels there is room for ambassadors of the sport. “This is why we’re still involved,” said the former marathon world recordholder. “Because we are the interest now. It’s not Korir or Khannouchi or anybody else. Because we are their connection to the mass crowds now.” Meyer concurs with Plaatjes and Jones. “Really, I think the guy who epitomizes that the most is Bill Rodgers…People know him. They’ll walk up and Bill will pretend he knows every one of them, and sit and talk with them to the end of the day. And you guys have been the same as that. These guys now don’t do that. And it’s just different. But your point about the only reason some races will bring in elites, and why you may see some races revert back to appearance money, is all they want out of the media is announcing the names who are coming. If they can build media into the event going in, it helps drive some of their numbers. And it helps their sponsors and all the other stuff. But without that element to it, after the race, they’re not interviewing these guys anymore. These guys get done and they’re gone. They don’t care. So that’s the only reason some of these races are still going for elite athletes, is that they are building the front end of the story. It’s not afterwards. Nobody cares who wins. It’s, can we build the story around the pre-race event?”

    There is indeed a huge disconnect.  I see plenty of local elites at races, whether they are participating or spectating, and they seem to tend to huddle into one clique or another of their entourage/hangers on and remain aloof and distanced from the unwashed/unanointed masses.  On the other hand, I have seen Frank Shorter, Mark Plaatjes, and Arturo Barrios around at races and they seem to always have time for others.  Perhaps this is because the greats of yore had a real passion for their sport and their fellow passioneers whereas today's young guns might have some sort of inferiority complex or paranoia or something.  They seem to not take their roles in the greater scope of the sport seriously, and so there is widespread disinterest in them.  All it would take is a little initiative on their part to start turning that tide.

    The three were then asked what suggestions they might have to improve the future of the sport. “It depends upon whether you’re looking at it from an athlete’s perspective or a race director’s perspective,” answered Jones. “As an athlete’s perspective, an athlete has to be held to certain standards, certain obligations, a certain code of ethics, whether it’s written by ARRA or PRRO or RRCA. I really think there has to be some kind of—we tried to do it with ARRA—a code of ethics, where you have certain obligations for showing up, regardless of whether you get an appearance fee or not, if they pay your hotels and your airfare. Your obligation is there right away. I think that race directors have to be more honest with each other, as a profession and as an organization, and be willing to stand up and say, ‘You’re not coming to my race again. You didn’t fulfill…’—which means you have to miss the next race, or the next race. So there has to be some kind of penalty for that.”

    Road racing is indeed one of the most disorganized sports in existence.  Some sort of framework, at the very least, is needed to get things going in the right direction in this regard.

    Plaatjes thinks moving to bigger ponds is the only way for an athlete to test him- or herself seriously. “I sincerely believe that if a lot of the young American runners change their mindset about competition—and guys like Dathan are doing it a little bit—but going to the big stakes, going to Europe and racing the cross country season,” he suggests. “Running USA Cross Nationals doesn’t do anything to get you ready for World Cross. You should be over there racing the European cross country season. You need to go and run four or five races before you go to run World Cross, and to get in the fray, and just get dirty. They just need to do that. They just need to stop—sponsors, shoe companies, all of those guys—stop making this the Big Pond. They need to say, ‘You need to be going over there and racing these guys and showing them.’ They need to make these guys hungry. And I know a lot of the young Americans will completely disagree with this, from an outsider perspective I really believe that.” Or maybe they need simply to take more risk domestically. “Like all these Hansons guys here today, and Justin (Young) as well,” adds Jones. “They’re hungry for it.”

    Young US runners, at least the notables, race far too seldomly.  People like Peter Gilmore would have been the standard 20 years ago, but today he is the exception. 

    Plaatjes then observed that lack of money often promotes hunger. “None of these guys have $150,000 contracts,” he emphasized. “I know, but that should be one of the motivating things,” responded Jones. “Not the motivating thing, but certainly one of the motivating things to try and get them to raise their standards and run. I think it’s the right motivation, and I think the right motivation should (also) be coming from their peers and their coaches. I really think that’s where it’s going to come from. I’m not a coach—well, I’m a coach by experience. I’m not an educated coach, I’m not a scientific coach. And it seems to be workin’ for a bunch of (Boulder Express) guys I’m workin’ with. And they’re motivated, we’re all motivated, every single one of them. We have a great social thing, we get together for barbecues, but I think that’s where it starts. And once again, it’s the club level, and it’s a bunch of guys that just want to get better. They’re not looking for Olympic Trials and Olympic gold medals, they just want to get better.”

    One of the primary goals of a coach is to work with the athlete's heart and mind to get her or him to run through a figurative wall in training and racing to do things they would not ordinarily deem possible.  The nuts and bolts of the training itself, though requiring a fair bit of expertise, is not that much of a shrouded mystery as to require significantly advanced study — it is not rocket surgery.  Drawing motivation from a coach and a group of like-minded individuals is key and is seemingly too often underestimated. 

  • #21668

    GTF
    Member

    http://runningstats.com/Pages/928/Players.html

    In the final part of our interview series with Steve Jones, Mark Plaatjes, and Greg Meyer, the three continue their commentary on what they feel may bolster the American and British winning of races at an international level, as well as a few suggestions as to what they might envision as helpful long distance running industry changes for the future.

    “I think we’ve touched on a lot of different things,” Meyer summarized. “I think the club system should continue to grow. I think we need to be more equitable in how we disperse funds. (Including) USA Track & Field. I don’t think one entity should determine where they spend their money, because it starts to look like appearance fees as opposed to, ‘Hi, we want to help the sport, let’s divvy the money up among all of them.’

    Yes, based on comments coming out of the quarters of one of the groups (Hansons) which said “no thanks” to the 'developmental funds' which were 'donated' by the NYRR (with distribution help by USATF) back in February, very clearly there were strings attached to this money and, what do you know, this bore out when Ritzenhein and McGregor chose ING NYCM for their debut marathon this fall.  Then NYRR neatly ended up with the men's OT marathon.  Seems that NYRR made USATF (and certain USATF-designated developmental clubs) an offer they could not refuse.  How to avoid such collusion in the future is an interesting problem seemingly without a viable solution at this point. 

    I think the discussion around holding athletes accountable to—or having the responsibilities to the races they go to. Somebody could draft a simple document, a one-pager, that says ‘These are your responsibilities when you go to a race. If you don’t sign this going into the race, you don’t get travel money, you don’t get a hotel room. You’re on your own.’ And I think races would buy into that. And it’s a very simple document. You’re going to show up at the pre-race press conference; you’re going to show up at the race; you’re going to do the press conference; and if you want to do a dinner before, that’s fine. And if you accept airfare money, you may have to do a clinic. Because you know what, that’s what we’re asking you to do.

    A union of races/race directors would likely be the answer to that end.  A union of athletes might be helpful, too.

    (Then) The agents. The agents need to take a different view of the sport. It’s not about makin’ money. And they need to take a different view on how they treat their athletes. I think there ought to be standards for who represents athletes. There are people out there that have no business representing athletes. You’ll have athletes show up at your door for a race, you didn’t know they were comin’. Oh, the agent just lied to them. You say, ‘What are you doin’ here?’ and they say, ‘Oh, my agent said I’m in.’ ‘Ohhh…’ I answer. They’re so unprofessional. If you want to get a photograph of an athlete who’s coming to your race, you can’t do it. Where do you go? I mean, it’s all about money. It’s all them just…you know? And (as an elite athlete coordinator) I’ll see—half the time they want to send an athlete in so they don’t have to feed them that week. (laughter from someone) I’m serious! It’s sad. And it’s sad for the athlete, but we’re letting these agents that aren’t professional get away with it. I also think some of the agents who are very professional take a short-term view of the athletes and the sport.”

    Yes, certainly.  I heard from a local elite (not dropping names, but a notable elite US runner even past 40 and an Olympian several times over) that for the vast majority of full-time runners an agent is an extravagance.  An agent earns his pay for someone who has a $1 million-plus income and coinciding image to manage, but for people earning much less it is a waste of money and lazy on the part of the athlete.

    “They’re not cultivating careers,” added Plaatjes. “They’re not cultivating careers and they’re not cultivating the sport,” agreed Meyer. “And I know it’s easy to point to America and say it’s an American thing. But it’s not just an American thing. It’s everywhere. In the U.K., I mean those guys have protectionism over there, too. They’re only going to let so many people in. The London Marathon controls their field. You’re protecting your sponsors. You’re trying to create a product that people want to buy, that want to watch, that they want to participate in. But I think the agents need to step up. I think the athletes (too). I think what’s a perfect example that Steve was talking about was the young guys not making a lot of money. I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoy watching the Hanson’s group so much. These were not the ‘A’ level athletes coming out of college. It’s just a bunch of hungry guys—that you know what?—if they make a bonus, wonderful. They don’t have…but it’s hunger. And ‘I want to see how good I can get.’ That’s it. These other guys come out, and I don’t want to say—you know what—we did our sport a disservice when we got ARRA going and everything else. We just had the wrong people managing USA Track & Field that were back then TAC. But there were rules. You couldn’t go everywhere. I mean, you had to get permission, and…you were held accountable.”

    While exclusively US-centric prize purses are problematic, an overall prize purse with a 'separate' prize purse for top US finishers is a fine compromise.  And be honest, is USATF really beyond its days of mismanagement?

    Plaatjes feels potential mentoring by some past great performers often is overlooked. “An interesting thing to me, and I’m just choosing Boulder, because that’s where I live. You have Steve Jones; you have myself; you have Arturo Barrios; you have Frank Shorter; you have Benji Durden; you have Lorraine Moller; you have Uta Pippig; you have Colleen De Reuck; you have Nadia Prasad. Do you think any of the young guys that live in Boulder has ever come up to me and said, ‘Do you have any advice for me, on what to do in the marathon?’ No. Has anyone asked you, Jonesy?” “Not really, no,” the Welsh former world recordholder answered. “Apart from your group,” added Plaatjes. “No,” Jones again replied. “No. I know for a fact,” continued Plaatjes. “Arturo Barrios has had the world record over 10K. Do you think Dathan or any of those guys have spoken to Arturo about advice? No! Why not? These guys have been there, have done that. They’ve learned so much. They’ve made mistakes. And maybe you don’t need to reinvent the wheel if you talk to these guys.”

    So, Ritzenhein, Ed Torres, and Hartmann likely could have performed better by getting multiple inputs from voices of experience, yet chose not to and instead stuck with just their coach through which to filter his own experience and the experiences of others.  Why?  What is so difficult about consulting other (often better-experienced) sources, especially when they are so easy to come across?  What is wrong here? 

    Keeping in mind that almost everyone uses examples of those in their own back yard, such as Dathan Ritzenhein, Colleen De Reuck or Jorge Torres in Boulder where Jones and Plaatjes live, similarly Meyer lives in Michigan and just as often uses club team members from his State as examples. “It’s funny but the Hanson’s group does,” he explained. “The Hanson’s group will ask me, they’ll ask others. They want to bring in all the information they can. And to me, that’s what it’s about.” And that is exactly the point Plaatjes was making. “Absolutely, absolutely,” added the Stuttgart IAAF World Champs gold medalist. “The guys are not utilizing the resources that are available to them. And I just choose Boulder, because that’s what I know. It’s a prime example, that…Why don’t these guys go, with Jonesy, Mark, Arturo, ‘We’d like to buy you a beer. Just want to chat.’”

    Which is why the Hansons guys (among others) routinely and consistently achieve and even overachieve and the proud prima donnas determinedly make more mistakes than they ostensibly need to.

    Meyer believes the federation could take a more active role in athlete development. “Look at USA Track & Field, that should do all these young development things and stuff like that,” the last U.S. male winner of the Boston Marathon critiqued. “How come they never bring in athletes to sit down and talk? Talk about not just the wins, the failures. How do you get past this?” Still, Meyer remains optimistic about the future of American distance running. “Being the only born-American here, and single guy, happy guy—no (laughter), I look and see for the first time in a number of years, opportunity for American distance runners. I don’t know what’s going on in Europe, I don’t know if they have developmental programs going on. It used to be, Europe was a hotbed for distance running. They’re just a bunch of hard-assed guys who used to race. I don’t see that like I used to. But I see the guys looking back now at what worked in the 70s and early 80s and trying to recreate it. They’re trying. I really see the effort trying. But it’s hard because of the money. We didn’t have the money that corrupted it until into the 80s. But in the 70s, man, we were running faster.”

    Do not hold your breath waiting for the federation to give much beyond token support to anything that is not already a success — USATF/USOC rides its cash cow (sprints, women's PV), which is not necessarily a bad thing, yet leaves mostly cow patties for the rest.

    Jones concurred. “And you’re hungry, and I think that’s a part of it. But it would be interesting to make a comparison as to why the women responded worldwide, and in the U.S. why the women responded to the African invasion. And the men have never responded to it.” Meyer believes the reason may be because women were only allowed to move up in distance in relatively modern times. “People were hungry as a sport. In the old days, there wasn’t even a marathon for women until ’84. So, it’s new to them and they’re hungry. They were never given the opportunity to be athletic, except in things that men deemed they were suitable to participate in. I think that Title 9 in the U.S. has made a huge difference in the NCAA. But I also think Title 9 has hurt on the men’s side of Olympic sports because a lot of the funding has gone away. I think in the U.S., the U.S. Olympic Committee ought to be putting money into the colleges for Olympic sports, because that’s their breeding ground. You know, they don’t do that. It’s crazy. They have all these facilities, and it’s like, they ought to be putting scholarships out there. They ought to be doin’ something. To me the USOC is, again, they throw money where they traditionally throw it, and it’s a waste being flushed down the toilet. Put the money where your developing athletes—right in the U.S. Like it or not, it’s the colleges…

    Radical, yet most pragmatic, especially if USATF/USOC has no genuine interest in crafting a viable club system. 

    I think the training clubs that are out there now, whether it’s (Team Running USA) California, (Brooks) Hanson’s (Distance Project), the group in Colorado (Boulder Performance Training Group) with Brad (Hudson), it’s all having positive results. I think it’s great that outside entities are putting money into that philosophy and backing it up. But I think there does need to be controls over how that money is distributed. If it just goes to one or two clubs, it looks like appearance money. It’s what Steve talked about: the rich are getting richer. It’s about developing a group of people, if that’s what they’re after, and there needs to be some equity. They need to hand that over to USA Track & Field, and say, ‘We’re making a contribution to the development of the sport. You distribute the money equally to the clubs out there that you’ve been associated with.’ I don’t think it should be up to the entity that they get to pick and choose what clubs. That’s a dangerous road, because quite honestly, it’s appearance money…

      Right, and it is a shame (and a sham) that USATF would bend over and allow such dirty politics.  The NYRR funds went to three clubs that were clearly most likely to produce runners who could make a splash at NYCM — there are 35 clubs designated as 'elite development' by USATF, yet NYRR's $240K donation was divvied up between a whopping four of them, the four which feature the most high-profile athletes who already have significant sponsorship income and were likely to run a debut marathon prior to the OT.

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