Sunday, July 31, 2011

Leverkusan Pole Vault Meet (how aths should be!)

I sit here and write on the eve of my selection fate. Tomorrow I find out about World Champs and I still am none the wiser as to what is going to happen, so I shall try not to think, and I certainly won't go on about it in this blog. Not much point, I feel. Will write tomorrow with my feelings when I know.

I had the great opportunity last night of experiencing one of the best examples of what track and field really should be like (photos taken by me!). This meet in Leverkusan, Germany, has been going for only a year or two. It's limited to just pole vault, and has gone from a BBQ and a couple of cases of beer with a few officials and a handful of jumpers, to what happened last night. It now has a proper sponsor, about 200 spectators, and a DJ with full audio set-up. The punters braved the cold, the vaulters entered in a stretch hummer (cheesy as hell, but kind of cool), they had a live singer belting out some Beyonce, more media than at Australian Nationals Championships (not hard), and, wait for it... 1 euro beers.

I'm not very savvy with pole vaulters' names in the Europe, but this field was hot! Three guys were there who have jumped over 6m, and it exhibited competitors from Australia, Germany, Ukraine, Korea, and the USA. You would have to say one of the best fields outside a permit meet in the world!

What I loved so much about this meet was the atmosphere that was created by the culture of this event. There is no doubt that field events in athletics sometimes get a hard deal, but the thing about pole vault (and pole vaulters) is the attitude they have to each other, their sport, and those who love watching it! The je ne sais quoi is hard to pin-point, but there is a positivity and friendliness that oozes from these guys that is very infectious.

I have never met a pole vaulter I don't like, and being great mates with Hooker has given me the opportunity to meet vaulters from all over the world that I now can call true friends. Last night I met a few more I can do the same with, and most of the crowd hung around for hours after the meet, catching up, drinking, eating. I don't know many other events in athletics where this kind of thing happens so effortlessly. It is obviously a special meeting, and I can see why Steve made the big effort to come and compete here (for no money at all, I believe), and plans to continue for years to come.

Working and travelling with athletes from lots of different sports as a therapist, I am often so jealous of the real community culture, especially in team sports. But this little pole vault meet in a small town in Germany has inspired me that there is a great community and culture in athletics that is lying underneath the lycra and egos that stereotypically holds this culture back. How do we expose and get more out of this? I don't know. But it has certainly got me thinking, and I plan to ask my mates in this great sport to put some ideas together.

It's so easy to get caught into the self-involved web of interest in aths. But there are so many great people in this sport who truly love it and love being around it. I know I have been guilty of being way too caught up in my own shit to know what's going on around me sometimes. But over the past few years I have learned that the people are what makes this sport truly great, and I think we can do better at making this known and making the most of it. I've been lucky enough to accomplish a lot in this wonderful sport, but to be honest, the things that I remember most and the things I will miss are the amazing friendships, the hilarious and tragic stories, and the weird and wonderful places.

We all have our own jobs to do, but why can't this still be a focal point and a backbone in the sport. It will always be there, of course, but why not capitalise on this and make it more of a focus? Make meets more social! It's not only better for the spectators, but the support that is given to the athletes is terrific, which can't be bad. Organise structure in camps and comps that helps develop this culture and stigma in athletics. I see in every single meet at every level in Belgium food and beer being enjoyed by almost all who aren't competing. Where is that social atmosphere in OZ?

It's possible my rant here is just idealistic nonsense, but it seems we are not making the most of something that already exists in our sport. I love this sport and what I do, but I love it more because of who I do it with.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Belgian Waffling

After the weekend's competition just passed, the facts stare me blankly in the eyes. It was my last competition inside the qualifying period before World Championships selection. In that sense, it was unsuccessful. But although I am feeling like I am once again snacking on a familiar tasting piece of irony pie, I feel great.

I forgot how nice it is (and rather helpful) to have a coach. This being my 5th European campaign, there is a certain pride that takes over when by yourself trying to 'nut it out' in Europe. I had about 3 weeks without Matty, and I realised how important it is to have a rational, watchful, and objective eye when training and competing. In my first session back with Matty last week we made a couple of small changes in my technique over the hurdles and it made an extraordinary difference in times and effort.

Belgian national Champs was to be the last competition for me inside the qualifying period, with a heat and a final. I went in with my new found confidence in hurdling as well as a settled attitude to the  qualifier situation in that, "If it happens, awesome. If not, that's OK." (History tells me this is by far my best suited approach for these races.) I was hoping to race against my old friend Michael Butheel in the heats. He and I not only share a very similar build and fascial structure, but more importantly, a similar PB. He was chasing qualifiers too.

The cold wind and the wetness dampened our spirits towards the good conditions we were hoping for, and we didn't get put in the same heat. I ran a very respectable 49.95 out on my own, and with some mistakes in the race, including a 16 stride into hurdle 10. It showed me that the changes we were making are what I need and that I really am in good shape!!

The final was a little colder and windy, but not too bad. I recovered and warmed up well, but my race was riddled with mistakes from the 5th hurdle, which included smacking hurdles 5, 7, and 9. My run to the 5th hurdle was "sensational" (Matty's words, not mine!). I had all but given up on the fast time by the 10th (which I took an insulting 17 strides into - I should take 15) but still managed a 50.60. This was annoying and encouraging at the same time.

So I sit here with a fantastic session done yesterday as well as the weekend behind me and a knowing that I can run fast at the moment. When I first got over here I think my racing was a little like blindfolded 'pin the tail on the donkey'; I'd race hoping that I would nail it but it was a bit of  blind faith (see Olympianity blog below). Now the blindfold is off and I genuinely know I have the artillery to run 49.0-49.4, and more importantly, HOW to run that fast!

On a good note, I have 2 or 3 more races to prove myself correct. The only bummer is they won't count as selection races this year.

I give myself about a 30% chance of World Champs selection in the hurdles with what I have done. The 4x400 relay is even more unknown as no-one is running as they would expect themselves to. A very odd year for all selection. But in the meantime (selectors will sit down on the 1st or 3rd of August) I shall wait patiently in the back of the class ready to come up to the blackboard and NAIL that book report... Pick me! Pick me!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Which friend are you?

Being back in Cologne for a while reminds me of last year before heading to the Commonwealth Games in India. Altogether unremarkably different from this year, except for the fact that I spent almost 2 months continually no more than 5 meters away from Joel Milburn. Joel and I talked about many things. 99% completely horse-shit, and I think the other 1% was when we were talking about the weather or what times we had run that weekend. Topics included; the best t-shirts to wear whilst DJ-ing, who would win in a fight between a ninja and a really cranky unicorn, the science behind why split shorts are faster than tights, what mischief we are going to get up to at the end of the aths season, and what angle is required to make it possible to climb a wall only using your legs and your face.

One of the memorable highly intellectual discussions we had, however, was on friendship. You may be picturing now Joel and I on our beds throwing malteasers at each other and telling stories about childhood mates and the people that shaped our complex and intricate personalities. But no. What we did was come up with a full-proof and completely reliable system to categorise our, your, anyone's friendships, based on what we share with that person. The more you are willing to share with this person, the more you hold them dear to you heart and are able to call them a true friend. Some shared things also dictate the type of relationship you have with them...

Lets start at the bottom and work our way up.

The Facebook Friend
Let's be honest here, you probably 'know' all the names on your facebook, but to say you actually have '1241' friends is complete crap. The Facebook Friend knows only your name, and maybe not even that. They are a number on a page you check every day and a source of amusement or annoyance when they pop into your news feed. Certainly a starting point in some cases to move up the friendship ladder, but they start where they should, at the bottom.

The Elevator Friend
You have a fairly passive relationship with Elevator Friend. Of course you may not have a choice most times. Or do you? You don't have to get on that elevator, do you now? The Elevator friend is neither visually or nasally offensive, may or may not be engaging in small talk, and you are probably not fussed whether they are there or not. You won't exchange anything physical with them, but that's fine. They don't make the trip awkward, but they haven't moved themselves up to any higher friendship group, and therefore remain appropriately where I am about to get off this lift.... the first floor!

The Pen Friend
Not to be mistaken for 'pen PAL' (that would be much higher on the friendship scale), The Pen Friend is someone who you would share a pen with. The great thing about The Pen Friend is that it's scope is all the way from primary school to Tuesday night Bingo at the RSL. This is the first of the physical exchange categories, as also a definite gateway to moving up the list, if that be your intention. They may not know your name, the pen offer may even be denied, but the intention was there, and that's important! The real key to the Pen Friend is the fact that you are happy to let that pen go. If you get it back, great! But if they forget, then that's just part of that ink-riddled connection you guys have going on.

The 4-X Friend
Again, not to be mislead (with 'XXXX' the beer brand), the 4-X Friend (short for 'four exchanges') is founded upon the no-less-than-four communicative exchanges with the person in almost all circumstances. For eg:
1. "Hey Chip!"
1. "Hey Dick!"
2. "How are you?"
2. "Oh, just peachy... And you?
3. "Grand, just grand. Say, don't you have Wednesdays off work?"
3. "Is today Wednesday? Well gol-ly, so it is! My wife is going to kill me!"
4. "Oh Chip! Hahahaha."
4. "Hahahahaha."
Four exchanges each. The 4-X Friend gets just enough information of the conversation to not make it awkward, but not too much to delve into anything too deep. The best thing about the 4-X Friend is you can validate the friendship without too much fuss; walking down the street without stopping, mutual comments on an FB status update, or a trolly run-in at the supermarket. You're friends on facebook, you'd happily share a pen or a lift with them, but you probably wouldn't say they are...

The High-5 Friend
Some blokes would say I have jumped too far here, and that the high-5 is both an ancient and sacred ritual reserved for the closest of close mates. I agreed with how special the high-5 is, but I also embrace it's more common use these days, and not only between guys, but between girls now also. There is certainly a high-5 etiquette, and some would say that they should read "The Art of the High-5" before attempting such an act, but that is not for me to say. The High-5 Friend is what I am talking about and they are a great friend to have around. They great thing about the High-5 Friend is that someone can easily enter the friendship ladder at this point, and with absolutely no words spoken... E.g: At a sport event, with a shared moment between fellow cheer squad members; in a social outing, when you have just revealed that you got the new job you were after; or at a music concert, where you agree with the stranger next to you that the track they are currently playing is 'kick-arse!' The High-5 Friend says:
"No. A handshake is just not enough. We need to rise up and smack our palms together in exaltation and celebration. We are High-5 Friends and we are awesome."

The Round Friend 
Again, not to be misunderstood. The Round Friend does not refer to their physical appearance, but to the ability to share a round of drink buying with them. Sometimes you can enter a Round Friend relationship against your will, but the fact that if that person is entering a Round Friend relationship with someone that you are also, then that trust extends to them also. A unique category, The Round Friend is not only a contract, but a test to the relationship. Entering into a round of drinks allows a certain amount of trust for those in it, and a failed round buy or a skipping off early can result in a catastrophic decline in the friendship status of those involved. However, with risk comes opportunity. Sharing a round is a clear intention of friendship and camaraderie for the evening, with its constant empathy as to the drinking status of the partakers; "Jim, you alright for that martini, mate?" "Sal, you're beer looks empty, babe. Refill?"

The Clothes Friend
As the names suggests, The Clothes Friend is someone in your life that you have the privilege of not only sharing a similar physical size (and probably gender) with, but also the ability to lend your clothes out to them. Initially with some risk involved, The Clothes Friend may be weary at first about the promptness and state of the garment when returned, but if this is passed then you have a friend for life. The only thing more pleasing than realising that you have obtained this sought-after mutual respect and friendship with someone in your life is doubling your wardrobe! The Clothes Friend is definitely a keeper.

The Straw Friend
There is a moment in some friendships when a new level is reached. It's usually not a conscious awareness of any new ground being broken like in the High-5, and sometimes it may not even register between the two friends. This happens when a milkshake is shared. I am not talking about 2 new lovers sitting opposite the booth seat in a diner sucking down on a vanilla choc at the same time, I am talking same milkshake, same straw. You are exchanging the same symbolic and physical attributes as a pash, but it's oh, so much more. When you kiss someone, your sexual intention clouds your judgement. Everyone knows someone who has pashed someone after a spew. This is what I am talking about. The Straw Friend reaches a level of mate-ship that supersedes a kiss, and brings two people closer together, by disease or by shared deliciousness.

The Toothbrush Friend

To share a toothbrush with someone willingly is the piece de resistance of the friendship world. It is the Enlightenment, the Mount Everest, the Olympic Gold, the Rachmaninoff's 3rd of friends. I can sense some people reading this and cringing at the idea of sharing a toothbrush with ANYONE, and all I can say is that I pity you. Many will never reach this level of friendship, never experience the letting go of inhibitions, never feel the true love or trust in someone letting them use their toothbrush. They have not lived. It's a state of connection that says, "You know what? I don't care if my special personal mouth cleaning device goes in your mouth as well. I'm not attracted to you, but I am ok with us sharing DNA in the way of saliva.... I'M OK!!" And in the case of a life  partner..."Do you take your groom to be your lawfully wedded husband, and do you promise before these witnesses, to love him, comfort him, honor and allow him to use your toothbrushin sickness and health?".... I do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BJ vs. TT: 1-on-1 with World Champs Bronze medallist Tristan T. Thomas

As we approach the two year anniversary of the stunning mens 4x400 bronze medal performance at Berlin World Championships in 2009, I talk to one of the medal winning athletes on his way back from a long injury-ridden period; Tristan Thomas. Quirky, passionate, insecure, but always armed with some banter to make your day more entertaining, the famous redhead talks about the past, the future, and why he leaves nothing behind.

BJ: Please state your name, age, your event and your favourite colour.
TT: Tristan Terrance Thomas. My age is 25 old years. My event is most likely the 400m hurdles and my favourite colour at the moment is green.
BJ: Tristan, you've been out of action for a couple of years now, man! But you are back on track, and looking good, so.... where have you been??!
TT: I have been in a void, its seems. Obviously, been injured: had surgery in August. I have had 40 000 different diagnosis for my achilles problems, and now just slowly slowly building up to the point where I can say I am an athlete again.
BJ: It's a long time away from something you obviously love so much... Have there been any tears?
TT: There haven't been tears as such, but as far as depth of emotion, there has been moments where I had to question things. But tears themselves, no. Over athletics, anyway.
BJ: And what answers have you got from those questions?
TT: The questions were "What do we do this for?", "What does it mean", and "How much does getting to the top of the mountain mean for you as a person?" They are the questions that you have to ask, and everyone has to ask as they get older, but being injured and having to tell yourself that you don't care for so long (otherwise you'd just go insane), you start to look at things differently. I'd like to think that I'll still be able to get as far as I want to go, but as with the coming of age, you've got other things in your life that mean a lot as well.
BJ: With 5 to 10 years left of your career, if you had to choose between 5-10 years performing at 90% of your potential, or 2 years at 100%, what would you prefer? 
TT: I would take the 100%. I have had many debates with people as to whether they would take the Olympic Gold or the World Record, and I am yet to find more than a couple of people that would agree that the World Record, and being the greatest, and getting to the top of the tree is better than beating the best people on the day. With that philosophy, if I can sit back in 20 years and know that I reached every little bit of potential that I could, regardless of where I finished or what teams I made, I used the talent that I had.
BJ: Alright, enough about the past. You are again on your way to superstardom, what next for Tristan Thomas? 
TT: I don't know. I would still like to say that I will have a good year this year, running some 400s. I would love for the training I am doing to correlate to a fast 400 and then making into the 4x400 team (for world champs), and to start getting you my, you know, persona out there a bit more. But realistically having had such a big injury and getting a little bit older, I would love to do amazing things, but weather it happens or not, I can only, sort of.... hope.
BJ: If you had a chance to run at any Diamond League in the world, what would it be and why?
TT: It would probably be Paris. Or, I don't know, for me now it's almost Monaco. I ran there in 2009 and I was in great shape and I went into the race thinking "this could be the day that I beat the best in the world." Training was gong really well, Angelo Taylor more than just knew who I was, but actually told me that I had had a pretty good training session the day before. I remember walking over to the startline, saying my goodbyes to Craig... Hilliard: coach, and thinking "what if I do this right? Anything could happen. I could run 48-low and, bang! Game over." And I stuffed it. Really bad. I still ran 49 twenty-something, but got last. I remember crossing the line and being devastated because I had blown the chance, so to be back in that stadium with a chance to rectify would mean more than just any other race.
BJ: So there is some unfinished business... 
Now for those young athletes out there who are envious of who you are and what you do, what would you say is so good about being a track and field athlete?
TT: I think what's best about it is that it allows you the time and the freedom to be creative enough to be able to do what you want to do without having the responsibilities of tedious 9 to 5 life. Everyone talks about going to Europe, everyone talks about wanting to see the world. Our job takes us to these places, and not only that, but how many people get to compete in front of 90 000 people like you and I did at Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where the crowd stands up as you walk to the start they cheer and get up and say "C'Mon Australia!" You may be about to get smashed, but you are someone. Athletics gives everyone in our sport an ability to be someone, which is a way to become more than just a dude in the crowd.

BJ: Alright mate, nice responses. Here is the real test though; BJ's 20 questions...

1. Are you ready?
TT: Yes.
2. What's better? Ice cream or chocolate? 
TT: Ice cream.
3. Favourite Band?
TT: Oasis.
4. Why is your hair so red? 
TT: Genetics. Although no-one else in my family has red hair.
5. Who will be our best performed athlete at the World Champs this year in Daegu?
TT: Sally Pearson. No, Steve.... No. Sally.
6. Which is your favourite Rocky film?
TT: Damn. Ummm... One.
7. Have you ever done a nude 400 meters?
TT: Negative. Ahhh... negative. 400? No.
8. What do you think you could run for a nude 400 meters?
TT: 400 meters. I don't know.
9. If you could describe yourself in 3 words only, what would they be?
TT: Tristan Terrance Thomas.
10. Who would you turn gay for?
TT: (Long pause) ... Mickey Mouse.
11. Who would you turn straight for?
TT: Minney.
12. When was the last time you washed behind your ears?
TT: The last time my Mum did it for me.
13. What is your best 10-pin bowling score?
TT: 201
14. Have you ever attempted a 'centurion'?
TT: No, but I look forward to the day I do.
15. What do you think  you would get to?
TT: Ahh.... Ummm... Ssssseventy??
16. What's your favourite item of clothing?
TT: My watch has probably got more compliments than I have. So I will go my watch.
17. At what age did you, or will you, become a man?
TT: (Long pause) Umm...  If I am remembered, hopefully a few years after my death.
18. Can Bolt run any faster?
TT: Definitely.
19. What is your favourite Sunday activity?
TT: Hmm.. Ask me again when circumstances change.
20. How many questions have I asked?
All together? Umm.. 18?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Date a girl who reads.

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilightseries.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes."

Rosemarie Urquico

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saturday night in Heusdan, Belgium

So another meet, another 50 point. I'm not pissed or really disappointed. It was a good race and a great field to come 5th in. I really enjoyed the race (other than it pissing down rain the entire night) as it was close and there was some great aspects of it.

I had this sweet analogy to describe where I am at with everything at the moment using lego and having the wrong pieces. Rightfully so, Matty shut me down and told me to stop f*&king around with analogies and just run. Fait call Matty. Just run...!

So i'm not going go write anything introspective about where I am at or where I want to be or anything this week. A me-free week. I have coming up on the blog a sit down chat with the one and only Tristan Thomas which was very interesting, so I will have that up as soon as I get it written.

I the meantime, training partner Mel Breen had a great night and ran her fastest time for any Euro campaign. Her thoughts can be found on her blog Get in there...

Just run :-)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Saved by Brittany

A very eventful weekend has just passed. Some say it would have been tough for those backing up in the Paris and Birmingham Diamond Leagues. Not me, those guys have it easy. The Kortjik-Brussels back up weekend is where its at as far as I am concerned. The weekend was chock-o-block with racing, catching up with some touring Aussies, getting in touch with the 14 year old girl inside me and again, learning from some good races. The plan was to race in Kortjik - a town in Belgium - and then catch up with some of the Aussie under 18 kids in Lille on the last day of the world youth Championships in France on Sunday. After a very windy 50.48 and 2nd place in Belgium, my good friend Michael Bultheel gave me the local low-down on a meet to be held on Sunday at the main stadium in Brussels, normally reserved for Diamond League, National Football games, National Championships and Britanny Spears concerts. Ironically, Brittany was the one who helped me learn from the weekend what I did, but we'll get to that.

Ben Offeriens and I decided that it was a perfect idea to have another race on the Sunday! He raced like crap on Saturday, and there was more wind on the back straight for me in the hurdles than fajita night at TGI Fridays, so I was keen for another hit out as well. We were flying at 6:30pm and our races were 2:30 and 4, so it was going to be tight, but fine. In short, we came, we raced, we left. But it was oh, so much more than that!!

Usually just at the right time, we athletes experience moments of clarity and perspective of the wonderful sport we do, filled with amazing opportunities on and off the field. The race yesterday was one of those moments for me. The exclamation point was Brittany Spears but I am getting ahead of myself again.

The Brussels meet was a reminder of what amazing athletes we are at the high level, and that not just anyone can take up this sport and succeed. It was a reminder of some of the do's and don'ts in track and field, and it was a reminder that this sport is really really fun :-) Allow me to set the scene...

The track was made pretty by balloons. And not just any balloons, floating ones. I recommend to anyone trying to make a big space with 21 people in it look good, to fill some balloons with helium and have those babies flying around to distract you from the lack of crowd in the stands. Tick. I knew it would be a long day when after 4 heats of the first event they were 20 minutes behind, and normally this would piss me off, but the 100m event was one of the most entertaining events of the past year for me. I simply could not get enough!

Those who have raced in any 'Pro' races in Australia will understand what I mean when I say that some athletes have a bark much, much bigger than their bite. Not being savvy to what the European equivalents of these all-show-and-no-go athletes looked like, I saw the guys warming up and was excited see what these chest pounding sprinters would clock up. There must have been 10 heats in total. They just kept coming!!

The first heat was won in 11.0, and I thought, "ok, cool. Slow heats first and then they build up..." Nope. Fastest heat first. Now don't get me wrong people, I'm not an elitist jerk who looks down on anyone who isn't winning Grand Prix's, but when you carry on like these guys did you expect some pure gold on that scoreboard. I absolutely love all participation in athletics but there is a certain dignity and demeanor that I think you should have when competing. There was obviously a lot of empty seats in the local class that this was taught in Track and Field 101.

It was clear that some of these guys were trying to make it look like they were sponsored - all the kit matching and in the current season. The winner of heft 3 was an example of this. Mate, don't salute the crowd and there is no way you got that bodysuit from running 11.7. Heat 7 winner actually ripped his shirt off after the race, strutting around and not shaking any hands. He ran 12.0. I'd like to put forward that there should be a cut off of 12 seconds for those to be allowed to wear a full bodysuit in the men's 100m. Actually, I'll probably eat my words on that in 20 years when all my spit shorts have fallen to pieces and I'll be the crusty old guy out on the street running in a bodysuit. Don't laugh, I'm probably also checking out your daughter's bum.

My highlight of the sprints was definitely 4th place is the second last heat. He was a proud 13 second full bodysuit wearer, and the fact that he was probably in his forties scored him 10 points in my book. I took back 3 of those points, however; 1 for each size he should go up in his bodysuit, and an extra 5 point penalty for the completely blatant jock strap he was wearing leaving nothing to the imagination whatsoever when he faced the other way. Simply stunning.

What had me off my seat, however, was the 2nd heat of the women's 400m. We were playing the harmless game of guessing who would win each of the races going purely on pre-race information. I never for a moment had the slightly larger lady in lane 3 who was probably in her latter end of the 30s or early 40s as a chance. She belted out of the blocks, not like someone who used to run, but of someone who is just driven to give their all, and caught her outside lane before the end of the first bend. I thought she would die a tragic death going into the 3rd hundred, but she held strong and was hurting like hell but pulled that finish line right in. Just over 60 seconds. An ovation she got, although a standing one she deserved.

So back to my race and there was probably someone in the grandstands saying 'Hey look at that dick head wearing split shorts and bright red sunglasses. Who the hell does he thing he is??" Who indeed. I ran a respectable but very tired 50.40. I hoped to make more of the conditions and great track but was fairly passive in the race and probably got what I deserved. 50 point low again. I would love to see the stats on the 400 hurdlers in history who have run between 50.0 and 50.5 more times than me. I'm tipping there would be none.

We were in a rush to the airport so I got no time for a proper warm down and smelt worse than 'old mate' in 29E, all things which make me cranky. I found myself unsatisfied with my performance before hearing the following words out of the radio sung by none other than miss Brittany Spears...

"That I ever thought that I could be, baby
I used to go with the flow
Didn’t really care ‘bout me
You might think that I can’t take it, but you’re wrong
‘Cause now I’m…

Stronger than yesterday
Now it’s nothing but my way
My lonliness ain’t killing me no more
I'm stronger"

She made me appreciate a good weekend of racing, which turned my mood around and also helped my appreciation for the spectacle of athletics that was before me than day. And finally I made one big resolution that I'm too close to the end of my career and have been doing this for way too long to keep giving myself a hard time when I don't run as fast as I want to. So, BJ... Clap. Clap. Clap.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My religious epiphany

I have decided to start a religion.

I've had a bit of experience in the area; strict catholic upbringing, studied and practiced Buddhist meditation for a couple of years, been practicing the ancient traditions of yoga for a while now, and I've watched the whole series of 'John Saffron vs. God' on SBS. My religious epiphany has come at just the right time, I think, and I'm pretty certain that it will benefit the whole athletics community. I'm not expecting any credit for this discovery, I just hope that the world can now believe as I do.

'Why now?', I'm sure you are muttering at your screen - and with just cause. Well, it all started last night when I ran not as well as I hoped in Celle Ligure. It was an absolutely amazing night for athletics. A balmy 27 degrees and no wind whatsoever. I warmed up fantastically and was as ready as 16 year old about to hit up underage Metro in Melbourne, had a solid field and some people to chase. The scene was set to run fast. And I didn't. 50.27, 3rd place.

Not a disgrace, but not what I wanted. Everything seemed to be in the right place, but once again I have been reminded of how cruel this sport can be. Which got me thinking...

We train our arses off right? Do the right thing to be the best we can with what we are given. So what gives when we don't get what we have worked so hard towards? I've learned over the years that patience is more important than some of your best training sessions when it comes to competition, so I can't be too down about last night's run. I must take it gracefully like the wise old man I am and try to have faith in myself that the times will come with patience and confidence. And then it hit me.... Faith!

So often in track and field shit happens (see above). There seems no rhyme or reason to it sometimes, and most objective approaches fall well short of any decent explanation. So what are we left with when things go down that are seemingly 'beyond our control'? Faith: belief that the work we have done will pay off and we will get the results we deserve. Faith; a complete and unconditional trust in our coaches and ourselves that the countless hours in the gym and on the track will take us toward attaining our goals. Faith: understanding that with the good comes the bad and that armed with patience and unwavering belief we shall stand strong against adversity. FAITH!!!

We are flirting way too much with religion here, ladies and gents. So let's embrace it. I'm starting a religion.
We need a name. Some respect must be paid to our Greek origins, I think, so I have come up with: Olympianity.

I'm not down with a single omnipotent deity, so polytheism it is, with Gods for each respective event. The Gods of Olympianity include Edwin Moses (I think we all suspected him being a God anyway), Carl Lewis, Emil Zatopek, Al Oerter, and Irina Szerwinska, just to name a few. Some Gods still walk the earth (track) today and can be seen doing ancient tribal dances on the start line, and holding sacred poses of pointing up to the sky with both hands as so summon the Gods of the past.

As true believers of Olympianity, we shall have special diets of protein and complex carbohydrates and in special days of importance we shall sacrifice our bodies and eat extremely uncomfortable and high levels sodium bicarbonate or beetroot juice extract so as to prove our faith and allegiance to the Gods. We shall but have only one day rest a week from the excruciating physical tasks of this religion, and on this day we shall rest and eat chocolate. An event of the highest significance occurs every four years, where believers either compete, or leave other daily activities behind to watch those compete and support the beautiful festival of Olympianity; the Olympics.

Luckily, the Gods of Olympianity have sent down special messengers to help guide us on our path. They are called Coaches. The word of the Gods is to be spoken through these Coaches and they must be treated with the highest respect. In times of pain, we may not understand some of the messages that are passed through these Coaches, but we must have faith that at times of celebration and of special festivals, like the Olympics, that the word of the Gods shows it's purpose and is good.

And finally, there is the 10 Commandments of Olympianity, not because i'm copying Christianity's '10 Commandments' but because there are 10 events in the decathlon.

1. Thou shall not cheat, ever.

2. Thou shall have overdeveloped gluteus maximus', gastrocnemius', and erector spinae, and know what these are.

3. Thou shalt use their religion to get out of things they don't want to do only when it involves; 1. Ex-girlfriend/boyfriends, 2. Late assignments, 3. 6 x 300 with 3 minutes rest, or 4. Work on Sundays.

4. Thou shalt not argue with thy Coach, unless they tell them to do another 300 rep on top of the session plan.

5. Thou shall look after thy body with massages and physio and recovery smoothies with blueberries.

6. Thou shall endlessly thank thy parents for all the time and money put into their faith, even if they don't win a diamond league and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

7. Thou shalt not tweet or Facebook boring information about training sessions that only them and their coach care about.

8. Thou shalt rest on the scheduled rest days and eat chocolate.

9. Though shalt avoid all cliches when being interviewed by the media.

10. Thou shalt, at all times, believe in oneself and be positive about the progression and nature in which their path to athletic enlightenment takes place. Furthermore, understand that their path, although confusing at times, is ultimately good and is always directed toward the believer being a better person.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Under the Italian sun

 A little cafe at the the top of Sacre Monte - awesome!

They seriously can't serve bad coffee here.  

Sacre Monte chilling: hard work. 

God knows how I got through this gap. It was a 2-way street!

Patty Birgin's secret hang out spot. If I told you where it was I would have to kill you. 

They're on a boat. Boom.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A sit down with Nick Bideau on 'the developing athlete'...

Whilst in Stockholm I had the absolute pleasure of chewing the fat with one of Australia's most credentialed track and field coaches, Nick Bideau. Not a man unfamiliar with controversy, and certainly armed with a very strong opinion, like him or not, Nick has 3 National record holders in his stable which means my ears were well and truly open. We talked about a number of subjects, but one in particular came to mind as a great discussion topic and one I'd like to share... The developing athlete and what it takes to become 'real' champion.

To be somewhat objective, let's quantify 'champion' into a medal chance at Olympics or World Championships, or even better - top 8 in the world. Ok, so on Aussie soil we are talking about what it takes to be at the current standard of a handful of homegrowns; Hooker, Pearson, Watt, Samuels, Lapeirre. Now I am certainly not at this standard, and none of Nick's current athletes are either, but he has certainly taken a number of athletes to this level and we have both seen it happen over the past years in athletics. No doubt Dr. Brian Roe would have much to say on the topic!!

So first off the rank is progression of performance. So often we see super talented and well performed athletes in junior ranks fail to make the transition to open athletics and meet the high expectations placed on their undeveloped backs. I certainly saw it a lot, and the guys that made my world junior team ahead of me back in 2000 are nowhere to be seen now. Or in 2002. Are these kids pushed too early? Are we expecting the training load of established and well conditioned athletes to be undertaken by these developing ones and they just break? Is it simply too fast a development for them? Or maybe it's just too much pressure!

Nick says no. He says that we really should see these athletes performing at a high standard in their late teens and very early 20s. If they aren't at a fairly competitive international standard around this age, then they probably are not going to do anything more than make teams. He used Cathy (Freeman), Gregson, and Risley as examples. All runners - I know - but fair calls on their quality as athletes and ability to perform early on. There was an article written a few years ago on kids under 15 running marathons and it said that other than being more likely to overheat, that young runners, conditioned appropriately, are not really in any danger of running these large distances. These athletes mentioned by Nick have all stepped up in senior ranks as well, and we can expect big things from those 2 boys over the next 18 months.

But then, I hear you ask, what about the Ben St. Lawrences out there? Great question! Blair Young was our best performed Olympic 400m hurdler outside Rohan Robinson at was running PBs at the ripe old age of 28! These athletes are hitting high standards well after this end of growth spurt and junior honeymoon period. Nick would probably argue they aren't the kind of elite that we are searching for in our youth today to bring home medals. Blair 'only' made a semi, and although he is now the Aussie record holder, there is a very slim chance of Big Benny to swim through the sea of Kenyans to come home with any jewelry.

So, then, how do we approach this developmental issue?? From one end, we are expecting these potential podium athletes to be performing damn well from early on in their careers. But then we want to make sure that they are staying in the sport and continuing on their paths to success and avoiding 'burning out'. Bedau has a simple answer to this. Linear and gradual progression. You can argue that it easier for distance running with this concept than, say, technical field events. But the principle is fairly basic and applicable across the program of events. 1. Take the athlete and their current training level. 2. Build their training load. 3. Monitor their ability to handle load. 4. Adjust accordingly. 5. Repeat.

It's never that easy, i hear you cry! And you are right. But it still seems to be a lost fundamental in this current climate of wanting success no later than yesterday. We are overcomplicating things in new wave training methods, supplementation, gadgets etc. whilst forgetting some of the basics of a human development. Surprisingly, Bideau's squad doesn't train ridiculously 'hard'. They are known for doing high Km's, but they only really push 1-2 sessions a week and most sessions on the track they should feel like they can do another set if they had to. How many elite athlete track athletes out there can say that?

So is this the recipe for champions? Who knows? It seems to be working well for Nick's gang, and agree with him or not, I think there is a lot to consider here with the treatment of our talented youngsters that hold the future of our sport in their hands.

Turning the focus onto technical events, I think that it is less likely to see some of the super athletes emerging so early in their careers as, say, with pure sprints or distance running. Chatting to Steve Hooker and Dani Samuels about their early career training sessions, they both had a very obvious and very simple development of basic movement patterns, and general body strength. Dani hardly lifted any weights in her first couple of years of disc (and still doesn't lift that 'big' for that matter) and Steve struggled immensely with gymnastics early on, but sill persisted with that side of basic strength and body awareness development because his coach Mark though it as very important.

In a volatile status of funding and our future, there is always the temptation of getting athletes going ASAP, especially the talented ones who can handle the training load short term. This short-sighted approach may get the athlete performing well quickly, but leaves them wide open to the side affects of a non-linear rise to the top without the proper physical and mental foundation in place. Symptoms may include: altered motivations to money/sponsorships/recognition, extremely sporadic training and competition performances, psychological or physical burn out, and injuries, injuries, injuries...

We see this every year, of course, and there is never any bad intention behind the management of the athlete (I don't know any coach or parent who is not pure and passionate in their minds), but it still happens and could be avoided. Clear, realistic, long term goals, and a complete approach to getting there is so important for these youngsters. Of course, every athlete is diffident and needs to be treated and trained accordingly. But look at those athletes and coaches who are doing this job consistently and well, and you will see some important answers on how to get there.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Stockholm Round-Up

I'm back from Stockholm, in Italy, and have successfully finished my first European race for 2011!

The Brief Summary

From lane 3 and 4th fastest on paper before starting I finished 4th in 50.72. Beautiful day around 28 degrees and only a slight wind. Felt good warming up considering the 40 hours travel the day before, and felt good running but lacked that 'ping' that you feel when everything is going well. All in all a happy race first up; as I said - I wasn't expecting much from the race other than just having a good hit out.  

A Little Deeper

If I had to be picky about my warm up, the warm up 'track' wasn't ideal as we didn't actually have a track. It was a synthetic soccer field, which obviously is not the same feel as a track. For me, I would have loved to actually go over some hurdles on the track and get the feel for the place and the surface. Over here in Europe the tracks are always just a bit different, not to mention that the shapes are different; some long bends, some long straights. Weird, I know. I also didn't get a long rep (about 120-150m) in before going onto the track, this acts as a 'primer' of some of the systems I will be using in the race. 
I generally felt good, but those things just stopped me from being super comfortable and aggressive in the race. 

I stayed with the leaders without too much problem for the first 200, and as I tried to go with them, it was just a struggle on the second bend. So I dropped off the pace and by the time the straight hit, I was a few meters trailing. I hurdled quite well, and got my stride pattern in (14s to 6, 15s home), but had to push the last hurdle a bit. I certainly didn't feel like I had worked that hard after wards, which is a good thing I guess.. 

So I am in Italy now at the Australian Institute of Sport European Training Centre, which is freakin amazing, and which I'll chat about in my next entry. I'll also write about a very interesting couple of chats I have had over the past week with regard to Australian Athletics and the development of athletes. 

Stay tuned ;-)