Track Shorts: Best of 2017

Maybe we haven’t reached the level of the Espy’s but hopefully a few of you have been eagerly awaiting the Track Shorts Best of 2017.  We take a look back at the year in important areas typically missed by most of the media and make up some arbitrary awards to celebrate real achievements by the athletes who live on the AthleteBiz platform.  Regular readers will spot repeat award categories from previous years plus some new ones.

Captain Obvious Award – Track & Field News

Track and Field News is a great resource for our sport and has been there for a long time.  But we will give them this award for going out on a limb and predicting Maria Michta-Coffey and Miranda Melville for a 1-2 Race Walking finish at the US Championships.  Has there been a more reliable pair of teammates since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen?  Close runner up – predicting that Sandi Morris will do well at whatever she does, including sitting for a portrait.

Most Likely To Get A Job as a European Weatherman – Kyle Merber

In advance of the US Championships, many speculated on the potential effects of the Sacramento heat.  Kyle Merber tried to put a different perspective on it, noting, “if you look at the Sacramento forecast from a Celsius’ perspective it’ll only be in the low 40s.”  Kyle’s take on it aside, you’d have to say that events with multiple rounds were probably a bit difficult in those conditions.

Professor Emmet Brown We Don’t Need Roads Award – Joseph Gray

ABers continue to push the envelop for competition away from the safe confines of the track or the roads.  Joseph Gray raced on snow this year.  Greg Ahlswede has added orienteering to the AB list and Camille Herron, Maria Dalzot, Traci Falbo, Pam Smith, Devon Yanko and Caroline Boller have been bringing home hardware in various ultra and trail-related events that are rarely less than 50k.  Add in our triathlon convert, Chelsea Sodaro, and you can see where this is going.  Very difficult to pick a winner here but we’re going with the guy who was willing to race in snowshoes – Joseph Gray.

Maxwell Smart “Missed it by that much” Award – Christina Manning

There were some heartbreakers here.  Lauren Johnson missed the WC team in the 1500 by just .28 seconds.  Likewise, Biya Simbassa was .84 seconds short of making the WC team in the 10k.  Mary Saxer was one of five vaulters at the US Championships tied for third at 4.55m (14-11); unfortunately, her one miss at 4.55 meant she finished 5th and didn’t get a WC berth.  But we’ll go with Christina Manning, who was literally the distance between Maxwell Smart’s fingers (.02 seconds) short of WC bronze.

Quote of the Year – Danny Mackey re: Sara Vaughn

We definitely have some wags in our group.  Rachel Weber notes that “My coach once told me that running Cross Country is like peeing yourself in a dark suit. It gives you a warm feeling all over, but nobody notices.”  Joseph Gray, in the Vancouver 10k Sun Run on actual pavement, asked “Where is the finish line, I’m trying to find some poutine ASAP.”  Ultra-runner Caroline Boller observed that “when you sit down mid-race, it sure can be hard to get back up.”  Kyle Merber seems to churn out a good quote nearly every day, but he already got one of our awards. Our favorite this year was from Danny Mackey after Sara Vaughn had just qualified for the WC in the 1500.  “Mother of 3? Check. Full-time job as a realtor? Check. PR at the age of 31? Check. First US team? Check. Are you inspired?”  Indeed we were.  As we were again when Sara notched another PR in London to make it to the WC semi-finals.

Rookie of the Year – Dani Hill (née Bunch)

Turning pro in any sport is tough but the transition from college to the professional ranks in track and field has got to be harder because you do it as an individual; there’s no team physician or travel agent, you may have to set your own competition schedule and handle many other administrative aspects while trying to earn a living.  To compete successfully while taking on these responsibilities is no small achievement.  Three ABers made the transition so well they found themselves in the US Top 10.  Sam Mattis was ranked fifth in the discus while Alex Young was the No. 1 US hammer thrower and made the WC team.  Even more impressive, Dani Hill copped a No. 5 World Ranking in her rookie season on top of her No. 2 US ranking and a trip to the WCs in London.

Breakout Season – Kori Carter in a squeaker

Ooh boy, we’re going to get in trouble on this one.  Why not Johnny Gregorek with his 3:35.00 season best, third at US champs, 10th at WCs and No. 1 US ranking? Not bad at all.  Neither is season that includes a 1:57.38 PR, a second at the US Champs, seventh at the WC and World/US rankings of 8/2; that would be Charlene Lipsey’s awesome year.  This just gets tougher.  Look at Christina Manning’s year – 12:54 PR third at US Champs, fifth at WC and World/US rankings of 4/3. We’re done here, right? Nope. Kori Carter checks in with a 52.95 PR, third at US Champs, WC gold and No. 1 rankings for both US and the World.  Normally we would chicken out and punt but we’re going to give the award to Kori Carter. Tough to ignore those rankings.

Note that the judges had determined that Whitney Ashley, who had a fine season, was not eligible for the award as she had a pretty good season last year.  We wouldn’t underrate a year that included a No. 1 US ranking, a No. 8 World Ranking and a trip to the WCs. It’s just that, well, she was an Olympian last year, so we felt she had already “broken out.”

Best Innovations/Worst Prediction – TrackTown Series/AthleteBiz

Tracktown’s Summer Series gave us a number of new ways to look at our sport – city-based team competition, co-ed combined distance and field events and a co-ed 3k race where the women were given a 340 meter lead over the men.  Paul Chelimo had been really dominant all season so we doubted that even that much of deficit would deter him.  We were wrong of course as Stephanie Garcia would not be caught as she continued to shine with and without barriers on the track.

TS staff did not shine as our predictions bore no resemblance to the final results.  To be fair, we had done them assuming every event would be contested at all three venues but it turned out no event was held at all three and some were only on the schedule in one city.  Yeah…that’s why we so far off.

Best Performance – Camille Herron

Photo: Conor Holt

Many to choose from.  Gwen Berry’s AR was not a shocker but it was still a bomb of a throw and certainly put her on the way to a No. 1 US ranking and a No. 9 World ranking.  Just because she was one of the favorites doesn’t mean that Tori Bowie’s gold medal 100 meter sprint isn’t any less deserving; that was a tough field she bested.  The judges were almost swayed by her adding the 4 x 100 gold as well but technically that was a separate performance.  Kori Carter’s surprise-but-not-really-if-you-were-paying-attention gold medal in the WC 400H was certainly up there. We’re going to go with Camille Herron’s “ridiculous” 100 mile record run.  Well how else would you describe almost 13 straight hours of running at 7:38 pace?  She broke the previous record by over an hour in her first attempt at a 100-miler.  Ridiculous, right?

Best Season without WC Appearance – Erik Sowinski

Disappointed or not to miss the WCs, several athletes put up fine seasons that did not include a trip to London.  Jasmin Stowers had the second fastest time in the world (12.47) and took home World and US rankings of 5/4.  Biya Simbassa had the 12th fastest 5k and 4th fastest 10k among US performers.  Amanda Eccleston had a great year that featured a 4:04.34 (4th fastest US time) backed with a 2:02.03 800.  We will go with Erik Sowinski, who had the 15th fastest time in the world and delivered two of the gutsiest 800 meter races we can remember at the US Championship semis and finals.  Anybody who runs 1:44.66 had a good year.

Best New Training Mecca – Philadelphia

When I asked Charlene Lipsey what was the biggest difference between 2016 and 2017 she immediately said “Coming to Philadelphia to train.”  Makes sense.  From December to March the temps are usually between 35-45 degrees with cold rain, freezing rain and occasional snow and then the humidity sets in around mid-June and leaves in late September.  Works for Ajee’ Wilson too so Kendra Chambers gave up the nicer climes to join them in Philadelphia, where it’s always sunny challenging weather for training.  No pressure Kendra but…

The Race Is Not Over Until It’s Over and Sometimes Not Even Then – Chaunte Lowe

Maybe it’s not as obvious as other sports but track and field does have video review.  Sometimes it’s sort of funny but sometimes not.  In the former category, we have Sara Hall’s late award of a $10,000 victory bonus at the USATF’s 10-mile Championships.  The bonus was to go to the first man or woman who crossed the finish line, with the men starting 6:18 after the women.  Hall had finished a little over a second behind Shadrack Kipchirchir but “upon further review” (kudos to LetsRun), race officials realized the men had started only 6:10 after the women.  Given how close the finish was, they decided the best thing was to give both the prize money.  Good idea, case would have been in the courts for years. By the way, Sara added the USATF marathon championship as well to finish second in the USATF running circuit series.

Not quite so funny was Nicole DiMercurio getting the victory in the Richmond half after the apparent winner – Firegenet Mandefiro of Ethopia – was disqualified because she was represented by a banned Russian agent.  Mandefiro’s case was likely not aided by “attempts to hide this representation by the agents and athletes during the elite athlete registration process.”

Definitely thrilling but bittersweet was Chaunte Lowe hearing in November that she would (finally) be getting her bronze medal for the 2008 Beijing Olympics nine years after the fact.  Chaunte had finished sixth but three athletes tested positive for banned substances and after their appeals were finally exhausted, Lowe could get her medal. Chaunte’s speech was classy and heartwarming, and she’s our pick.

How Would You Like To Be Queen for a Day Few Months?  – Katie Mackey

Heather Kampf’s unfortunate injury did provide an opening for someone else to be Queen of the Road Mile for a while.  There were certainly many contenders.  Katie Mackey was happy enough to step in to take the USATF road mile championships in Des Moines.  Others claimed victories at various stops along the road mile circuit as Heather worked her way back into form.  The interregnum ended with her win at Minnesota in September.

Never Can Say Goodbye

The World Championships gave many a reason to hang around for another year but with the next Olympics three years away, some chose to hang up the spikes after the season.  This year’s long list includes:

We note that Ryan Hall officially stopped competing only after completing seven marathons on seven continents (that’s all of them folks) over seven consecutive days.  We also wonder where the next spectacular fall will come in Jeff Porter’s absence.

Sadder than seeing athletes leave the stage is hearing about the untimely passing of friends of any age.  Losing David Torrance put a big hurt on our track and field community.

Sometimes the Biggest Competition Is Off the Track – Gabe Grunewald/Quentin Butler/Jamie Nieto

Sometimes the biggest competition is off the track.  Gabe Grunewald didn’t let chemotherapy keep her out of the US Championships.

Quentin Butler, moving from a sprinter/jumper to a skeleton competitor discovered he had kidney failure in August.  He’s currently on track for a transplant in February.  Though he’s out for this Olympic cycle, Quentin is expecting to return to high level competition.  Jamie Nieto, paralyzed in a training accident, was told by doctors he’d probably only get 30% function back.  He’s progressed well beyond that and walked down the aisle at his wedding in July.

Separated at Birth?

Our AB athletes are celebrities in their own right but we can’t help but notice that a few bear a striking resemblance to other celebrities.  Here are some prime examples:

Greg Ahlswede | Sam Rockwell
Amber Campbell | Serena Williams
Stephanie Garcia | Olivia Munn
Jeff Porter | Donald Faison
Tyler Pennel | Matt Damon

Quite scary and we could have gone on and on.  But the new year approaches and we must move on.  Here’s to a great 2018.

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