Monthly Archives: March 2014

“Play for Pay” and politics; is USATF killing its own sport?

Tennessee Lawmakers Debate NCAA Changes

This morning, we begin with somewhat continuing news concerning the NCAA and the “pay for play” debate. NLRB’s decision last week which allowed football players to unionize at Northwestern University (and the potential to receive payment as the University’s employees) ignited conversations all over the country. Some lawmakers in Tennessee are trying to come up with adequate ways to address the problems with the NCAA and the lack of protection athletes have, but there is difficulty in reaching that balance.

State Representative Antonio Parkinson is sponsoring a bill (Senate Bill 2511) that would provide post-graduate stipends to certain sports’ athletes “who have no career in sports after graduation.” Last week, the Senate Education Committee “debated a bill that would grant a one-time stipend to every Division I athlete who completes a four-year university in Tennessee.” The proposed bill would force schools to retain “1 percent of their revenue from ticket sales, merchandising and (most importantly) television contracts to create a fund to pay student-athletes after graduation.” Athletes who compete in “Tier 1” sports (football, basketball, baseball, track and field) would receive a $50,000 stipend after graduation; all other athletes would receive $25,000. Stipend paid after graduation are not dependent on gender, individual skill or team performance. The committee split 4-4 on the issue, with State Senator Steve Dickerson maintaining a stalemate in his abstention.

The article raises a few concerns about the bill. First, the bill would violate current NCAA rules. Even State Rep. Parkinson admitted this point, so let’s move to the second point – its lack of fairness. Some debate whether “a football player should receive more than a swimmer.” This comment points out a potential subtle contradiction within the structure of the bill. The bill appears nondiscriminatory on its face: all athletes will receive money regardless of its teams’ skill, individual skill or gender. In the same vein, the bill points out that athletes of four teams specifically mentioned will receive more than other athletes in other sports will. That maneuver may single out what teams are “better.” It may also be the case that those top four teams are the ones bringing in the most amount of money to the athletic program. In this sense, while it may not appear fair because some athletes receive more money than others, it is because those sports have a wider national audience, and thus they should be compensated appropriately. It may not seem fair, but it is a more “right” result.

Another problem cited by skeptics of the bill lies with Title IX and whether payment in this fashion (if upheld) would run afoul of funding men and women equally. Of the “Tier 1” group, only two of the sports inherently include both genders: basketball and track and field. Even if the bill included softball to complement baseball, football does not have an identifiable co-sport for women. In order to comply with Title IX, the bill would have to choose another sport (or two) to balance the compensation field. Doing that, however, could lead to a number of exceptions to the bill, as well as illustrating unfairness to the men’s sports who don’t receive that money because of legislation on the sole basis of gender.

Arguably the biggest problem with the bill comes from the lack of perspective. Here’s a key quote from the article which shows how off the focus is: “State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, the Memphis Democrat who sponsors the bill, said stipends would help the vast majority of intercollegiate athletes, who have no career in sports after graduation, get on their feet.” It is unsurprising to most senior athletes whether they will make it into professional athletics (perhaps spring sports may contend with this, but it’s not true for the vast majority) – you will or you will not. Recall that 99% of student-athletes who graduate from college do not make it into professional athletics. Why, then, is Sen. Parkinson structuring the bill as a safety net for athletes who don’t make it, when these student-athletes are graduating from college?

I interpret this as an implicit assumption that college athletes who attend the University of Tennessee lack the requisite skills to obtain a job post-graduation, and therefore need extra money to hold them over, to start their own businesses, or just to make ends meet. You don’t hear anything about helping them get into graduate schools, assisting them in finding post-graduation employment or any related guidance. Unless they want to pursue careers that require a post-undergraduate education, students who leave the university should already possess those skills to go out into the working world. Perhaps it is best to sacrifice some of that athletic prowess and start going to class to learn important information and skills so universities don’t send crap like this out into the world. (And no, not all athletes are stupid – it just looks that way because that’s the kind of protection I see going on here).

TFAA: Sponsors, Don’t Penalize Your Athletes

Out of the frying pan, into the fire: we turn from the conflicts in the NCAA world to conflicts between USATF and its athletes – a conflict the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) is working furiously to quell. Its latest action began when it propositioned corporate sponsors not to penalize its athletes by cutting their pay when they boycott USATF-sponsored events. So far, a few corporate sponsors agreed to amend its contracts with athletes to protect the athletes’ interests. “Our immediate goal with this amendment is that athletes feel more safe taking a stand,” TFAA treasurer Ann Gaffigan says. “If we get to the point in the future where we have to ask athletes to make a stand, they’ll have firmer ground to stand on.” If TFAA can persuade enough sponsors to follow suit, its athletes can establish an effective boycott which will force USATF to communicate with TFAA. The recent substantial increase in actions and movement by TFAA came from the two controversial disqualifications of Gabriele Grunewald (later cleared, but not in complying with USATF rules) and Andrew Bumbalough (still disqualified, but for no legitimate reason) at the 2014 Indoor National Championships. USATF continues to ignore TFAA requests to discuss the matter in person, but USATF claimed that they had a “working group” that “will look into the matter.” You can find a related article on the matter by clicking here – that article goes into more depth concerning the controversy, as well as including a few comments by TFAA members and track and field athletes frustrated with the situation.

In related news, letsrun.com put out an article about the continuing Gabriele Grunewald debacle and how USATF utterly failed in applying the correct rules. It looks quite similar to the other article I posted a while back, so I thought I would simply reference it instead of going into detail. Synopsis: the “new and conclusive evidence” USATF claimed to have wasn’t new. All it did was look at it from a different angle using a different medium (use of a computer instead of a TV screen).

Checking in on Rio 2016, we learn that it continues to struggle to meet deadlines…and also to meet in general. A “fundamentally important meeting” for the federal, state and local agencies working on the Olympics that was scheduled to take place on March 27 “has been pushed back 5 days.” The new meeting is scheduled to begin tomorrow (April 1). Given the substantial procrastination of the people working this project, it’s doubtful if even this meeting will take place.

Finally, Boston has unveiled more information about the exhibit it is putting up starting April 7 in remembrance of the bombing tragedy last year at its marathon.

 

 

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Special edition: is unionization of college athletes a good idea?

NLRB Rules in Favor Of Northwestern Football Players

Yesterday, Northwestern University made national news when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Chicago ruled in favor of the football players, meaning that “football players at Northwestern University are employees and can unionize” (emphasis added). The written decision explaining its ruling is here, and I’ll save the parsing of its decision for another day. In rendering its decision, the board considered athletes “getting paid in the form of scholarships, working between 20 and 50 hours per week and generating millions of dollars for their institutions” as passing the threshold for attaining employee status at the university. Athletes will benefit from the status change in seeking “better medical coverage, concussion testing, four-year scholarships and the possibility of being paid.” Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association (NCPA) highlighted the key issue which drove the need to unionize: “athletes in the revenue-generating sports of college football and men’s basketball are taken advantage of by universities, conferences and the NCAA, making billions from games, while the players sometimes struggle with basic needs like medical care, concussion testing and guaranteed scholarships.”

But the battle is far from over. The regional NLRB office issued a statement that “any requests for review of its decision must be filed…in Washington, D.C. by April 9.” Northwestern intends to appeal as far up the chain as the U.S. Supreme Court, but a final ruling on this matter may not occur for years. For now, football players at Northwestern are employees of the university. I hasten to note that the precedent might apply only to private universities – while the NLRB is federal law, it “has no jurisdiction over public universities“; the NLRB believes it will eventually impact public schools.

Donald Remy, chief legal officer of the NCAA, made some interesting comments worth analyzing: “We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid,..While improvements need to be made, we do not need to completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone attend college…We want student-athletes — 99 percent of whom will never make it to the professional leagues — focused on what matters most — finding success in the classroom, on the field and in life.”

Looking at the first statement, one might notice the comment about the “love of the sport” and realize that the purpose of collegiate sports is to enhance the college experience, not overtake it. Perspective is the big issue here, and there’s a comment by a football player which illustrates this point beautifully. Kain Colter, the leader of the unizonization movement and a former quarterback for Northwestern, discussed his “year-round time requirements, at times 50 hours a week devoted to football.” His devotion to football forced him to leave his pre-med studies major “because he couldn’t fit his classes into his schedule.” Colter is one of many athletes to voice complaints about the college experience and the sacrifices made. Perspective: it is more important to stay on the team and put in the 50 hours a week over pursuing a pre-med major.

Take those complaints, attach it to Remy’s “need for improvement” comment, add the NCAA’s alleged intention to helping students focus on classroom experience, and it looks like you have a recipe for healthy change. Athletes want success in academics and athletics – so does the NCAA, in theory – a weak theory, at best – and universities want success in both areas for recruiting and financial purposes. Do we blame the coaches for making the athletes work so hard? Do we blame the media for hyping up collegiate sports? Do we blame the universities and boosters for putting too much pressure on its coaches and athletes to perform in order to accumulate wealth? Here’s a novel idea: blame them all, because they’re all responsible in some way. College is supposed to educate students, not to prep athletes for professional athletics. Money mongers fail to understand, or choose to willfully (and blissfully) plead ignorance in understanding, erects a proverbial wall that precludes change. It does not improve matters when “about 15% of men’s football, baseball and basketball players said they would have had different majors had they not been athletes.” Some majors require a substantial commitment to meet their academic requirements…a commitment that is nearly impossible to make if you’re spending 40-50 hours a week on the field. Otherwise, you’re sending more incompetent individuals into the working world.

Now, let’s examine the “improvements to the NCAA” comment. To be frank, the comment is simply one of those comments politicians make to appease the public, but nobody ever does something to create impacting change. The substantial amount of hours some NCAA athletes put into their sport is equal to or greater than some of the hours put into a weekly job in the real world…and these kids are attending a higher education institution to obtain these kinds of employment. Take the premise that it is ludicrous to think that student-athletes can handle a 40-50 hour a week athletic commitment and expect them to carry a full course load…oh yeah, and pass. That is similar to having a non student-athlete taking on enough side jobs to constitute 40-50 hours a week and taking a full or near full course load. Universities would have no problem admonishing those students and/or kicking them out if they failed, but if they are featured athletes, they do everything but kiss their rear-ends because of money. Note: if coaches did not mandate athletes to train double the allowed number of hours, it would likely decrease the need for medical protection and exploitation. Furthermore, if athletes do this to themselves in order to surge or remain ahead, then that’s a consequence they must absorb.

If those expectations are unrealistic, then what changes has the NCAA done to ensure that coaches are honestly respecting their athletes’ time? And before some NCAA official wants to brag about their “anonymous reporting” system statistics to keep coaches in check for their 20 hour a week maximum requirement, save it. Some athletes continue to report (whether officially or unofficially) high numbers at practice; failure to adhere to the coaches’ desires results in a loss of playing time, loss of a scholarship, or being neglected to the point where the athlete quits the team. Few athletes rat out their coaches because of the coaches’ interests, the universities’ interests, or the athletes’ interests. I argue that the NCAA incorporated mechanisms which look like something was done on paper, but in reality had a relatively small impact on the domineering collegiate sports. Heads up, NCAA – your weak and ineffective changes led to this NLRB decision.

Perspective: if you want a shot at making it into a professional league, you have to put in the 40-50 hours a week to train. If you don’t, you can’t play at that level. Student-athletes are left with a few choices: 1) transfer to a school with a less rigorous sports program that allows one to focus on the major of his choice (and it seems that males face this problem more than females), 2) give up the major, or 3) give up the sport and focus on the major. Spoiler alert: all three choices violate the purpose and intent of having the NCAA. Choice #3 violates the spirit and intention of the NCAA – the point is to encourage student-athletes to excel in and out of the classroom, not walk away from one to pursue the other. Choice #1 is appealing, but only if you’re uncertain about your prospects in the sport. And, if you chose the initial school because of academics, then you’re back at #3. Choice #2 also violates the intention of the NCAA in the very depiction of the student-athlete – a phrase that some college athletes might reconfigure to athlete-student. While other options may exist, these reign as the main ones athletes ponder.

And finally, let’s discuss the last point about the 99 percent of student-athletes not reaching professional athletics. If that’s the case, then why are we letting the minority speak for the majority? (Note: the irony is that the players fighting for unionization didn’t / wouldn’t have made a professional team – they just want protection for future players.) Right – because we’re America. Our nation has become so overly sensitive in certain areas that we miss the original point entirely. Some athletes are upset about how much they play and the lack of protection they receive in participating in collegiate sports. Newsflash: sports come with a substantial amounts of inherent risk – some more than others (football). At this stage of our human existence, it is extremely difficult to neutralize most of the risks inherent in some sports. And it is true that many collegiate and professional athletes (football mostly, but it includes basketball and baseball) players will leave the game with more problems than before. Ramming your head for 40-50 hours a week for four years will incur irreparable damages in some cases. “Yes, I voluntarily assume the risks of what will happen to me should I decide to play this sport – but please give me money to protect all of the risks I knew about, because I really want to do this activity.” I do not mean to imply that all sports with those inherent risks should cease all activity, but I do not believe the reasoning is sound enough to potentially threaten an entire system by treating players like employees. Most agree that the system the NCAA created became a system that substantially exploited some student-athletes for billions of dollars. While I think the NLRB’s decision to treat athletes as employees at Northwestern sent a strong message to the NCAA to reinvent itself, I do not think the application of the decision will lead to the intended results for private universities.

Going back to the article, the irony is that Northwestern’s president emeritus said “if the football players were successful forming a union, he could see the prestigious private institution giving up Division I football.” Football teams at prestigious universities do not pay for themselves like most public universities; it is expensive enough to hold and outfit the team. But the effect does not apply only to Northwestern. Private institutions with high academic standards (the article mentions Duke and Stanford) with BCS eligibility “could abandon the current model in order to preserve academic integrity.” In other words, the college institutions who are lucky to have decent football teams and high academic achievement would sacrifice the sport for the academics.

Although the potential transition may provide some shock value, the Ivy Leaguers might appear nonplussed and scoff, “been there, done that.” Shortly after the 1950s, the Ivy League schools “decided to opt out of postseason play and to end athletic scholarships, preserving the emphasis on academics for the players.” Their decision to give up the “certain kind of model for sports,” but that has not stopped them from succeeding in collegiate athletics. While its athletes don’t matriculate into professional sports nearly as much as other colleges, some do, and they manage to complete all of their academic work on top of it (not that drawing comparisons between Ivy League academics and most other universities in the nation). Jerry Price, senior associate athletic director at Princeton commented that their decision to “maintain academic integrity” trumped “the commercialization of what football was becoming.” Ivy league schools have football programs, but its turnout is significantly less than schools in bigger conferences like the SEC or the Big Ten. It is foreseeable that private universities with similar academics and rigor to the Ivy League level may opt out of Division I football as well. Therefore, it is likely that the short-term impact of the decision will do more harm than good in some respects, but may allow the small contingency of athletes to pursue majors they originally intended.

I know some people might jump for joy in seeing the decision rendered by the NLRB. However, I maintain heightened skepticism over its potential success. There is no disagreement on my end that the NCAA must change to help athletes succeed. I reiterate that the NCAA appears to make cosmetic changes that affect only the appearance of what should be right, not what is right. While hypothetical situations about what the NCAA should have done prior to athletes’ running to the NLRB might make for an interesting sports law class, it does little to answer the question of what to do now.

As I see it, there is a fundamental conflict with a key term thrown around at universities: the fallacy of the student-athlete. A student-athlete that spends 40-50 hours a week on the playing field, training or watching video puts the athlete first and the student second. NCAA, its conferences and leagues, and the universities built its domineering empire on “athletes who attend college,” and pride themselves on the fanatical “student-athlete” phrase that is devoid of all applicable reality. While the majority of athletes do not make professional teams, all athletes in certain sports appear to be treated as if they were all destined to “make it to the big leagues.” Athletes are put on this pedestal, “encouraged” to spend more time on the practice field to maintain or elevate their statuses. If they fail to make it,, they are pushed off the pedestal without a second thought and quickly replaced with young, new and naive athletes who hope to realize the same dream but will likely suffer similar fates. It is a cruel system, but it is nearly impossible to practice those types of hours and expect to have enough involvement in certain majors to come out and represent someone knowledgeable about the subject…unless those athletes actually practiced at or below the 20 hour maximum allowance.

It is possible to have a healthy balance of protecting the athletic and academic interests of the student-athletes. I reiterate, because some entities might forget this very simple point: college gives students the skills needed to enter the working world and become a functioning and contributing member of society. College is not a preparatory outlet for professional athletics. If so, then colleges are doing an awful job at it if only 99 percent of collegiate athletes are making the cut. Seeing as though it is not, it might be best to take a page out of the Ivy League schools and scale back some of the hype to preserve and protect the primary purpose of higher education – education. Overall, the decision might provoke the NCAA to make actual changes (if the appeal holds in favor of the football players, but the NCAA should begin its work now) which is needed. Unfortunately, the power of the decision will likely make most private universities give up some of its revenue sports in favor of academics.

 

Lingering DQ questions, sex scandal and Russian arm wrestler failures

Bumbalough and the Missing Evidence

This morning we start with some continuing news (or lack thereof) about 3,000 meter competitor Andrew Bumbalough and the controversy over his puzzling disqualification at the recent 2014 U.S. Indoor Championships. Quick recap: Bumbalough was disqualified for his alleged illegal “physical contact” with Galen Rupp during the race. Current video evidence suggests that the officials confused Bumbalough with Ryan Hill, and that Bumbalough never had any contact with Rupp. Bumbalough’s agent, Tom Ratcliffe, submitted a formal request with USATF, demanding further evidence of Bumbalough’s alleged contact.  Norman Wain, USATF’s general counsel and chief of business, assured Ratcliffe that he’d “be in touch” soon thereafter. To date, USATF and Wain remain unresponsive.

Bumbalough is not the only individual waiting on a response from track and field’s national governing body. The Track and Field Athletes Association (TFAA), an organization that represents the interests of professional track and field athletes, has yet to meet with USATF to discuss a more honest process in dealing with disqualifications.

Why Being a High School Coach And Having Sex With One Of Your Athletes Is A Poor Decision

In Phoenix, Arizona, track and field coach Bo Reed was arrested this past Saturday for sexual misconduct with a minor. In court, Reed discovered that he was facing “eight counts of sexual conduct with a minor.” Friends of the victim had suspicions about the change in her demeanor. They described the 17-year old athlete as being  “withdrawn,” and that she spent much of her time with Reed – more than usual. Her friends realized the extent of the relationship between the two when they saw “inappropriate messages between the two on her Facebook account.” The girls called the police immediately, and Reed found himself in cuffs on the same day.

Reed and the victim both admitted that they had engaged in sexual conduct over the past two months, according to court reports. At the hearing, the judge set bail at $54,000. Reed pleaded with the judge to reduce the bail, claiming he could not afford to pay the bond. He maintained that he needed to post bond so he could work to support his family financially. The judge remained fixed to the bond, and Reed remains in jail. The school suspended Reed without pay, and the school is currently investigating to determine if Reed is responsible for other inappropriate misconduct.

Six Russian Arm Wrestlers Fail Drug Tests

The news in this article is twofold. First, there is the enlightenment that national and world arm wrestling championships occur, and that they have extensive rules and regulations as well as national governing bodies. Second, six of Russia’s competitors at the national championships failed doping tests, subjecting all of them to provisional bans until a final ruling occurs. The violators include three silver and one bronze medalist from the national competition held in Moscow earlier this month. According to the article, arm wrestling continues to gain international attention within the last few years, with Russia having some of the top arm wrestlers in the world.

In litigation news, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller “has filed a lawsuit against Rapid Running Event Management, LLC., and its owner Dave Mason for registering participants for at least five events, canceling those events, and not returning more than $95,400.” Rapid Running Event Management, LLC breached its contract with runners in its failure to reschedule races that were cancelled, or to refund its athletes in the event the managers failed to reschedule the races. In one example, Rapid Running tried to obtain a permit from the Village of Orchard Park to host a road race, but the park denied the permit “for various reasons.” Rapid Running emailed all 940 participants that the event would be cancelled nine days before the event began, and it offered no refund for the $64,055 (total sum) paid by the entrants. Over 1,400 registrants from various races sponsored by Rapid Management were cancelled with no refund, despite promises to do so.

Finally, Denmark is hosting the 7th annual European Athletics CEO Conference  in Copenhagen to encourage the exchange of information, ideas and strategies in “high-performance and participation” within the sport of track and field. The two keynote speakers of the event include “Marc Jörg, former Head of Sports Rights at the European Broadcasting Union and Patrick Magyar, CEO of the Zurich 2014 European Athletics Championships.”

FIFA fails and track history

FIFA Might Have Dropped The Ball in Dope Testing

With just a few months to go before the kickoff of the World Cup in Brazil, FIFA’s inadequate dope testing and Brazil’s questionable testing procedures raise doubts concerning the integrity of the test samples. FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, “hasn’t caught a men’s World Cup player for PED use since Argentine star Diego Maradona tested positive for five variants of the stimulant ephedrine in 1994.” FIFA maintains that their relatively drug-free history means that its athletes avoid using performance-enhancing drugs. Most anti-doping officials disagree, and I am inclined to agree. It seems ridiculous that athletes in other international sports suffer positive drug tests, while soccer players competing in the World Cup escape positive tests. FIFA’s stance on its relatively drug-free World Cup athletes may remind some over Kenya’s previous boasts of drug-free athletes. Turns out they were wrong – and it’s possible that FIFA may suffer a similar revelation.

Brazil is already under fire for its lack of accreditation.  WADA “suspended the accreditation of the existing lab in Rio de Janeiro last fall after it fell below the agency’s required standards, which can mean it failed to determine the correct results on samples sent to evaluate its proficiency, according to Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer.” The process Brazil adopted to collect samples is under severe scrutiny, despite Dvorak’s assurances that everything will run smoothly. As custom for World Cup matches, a random selection of 256 players will provide samples at matches. FIFA hired over a dozen physicians to collect the samples, overtaking a duty usually given to anti-doping officers. Dvorak remarked on having physicians take care of the collection process, as he wants individuals with medical degrees responsible for the collection of the samples. After the physicians collect the samples, the samples will be flown to Zurich from São Paulo – roughly a nine-hour flight. But what is troubling about the collection of the samples is that only “six of the 64 World Cup matches take place in São Paulo”; the other matches occur in 11 other cities. The other 11 cities range in 1-5 hour travel time difference to São Paulo. All samples will leave from an airport in São Paulo, meaning that samples from other cities must be flown to São Paulo before leaving for Switzerland. The farthest city, Manaus, is a five-hour flight, “meaning samples collected in that city won’t arrive in the lab for another two nights, or roughly 36 hours.”

The article points out two major factors – time and “chain-of-custody” – both of which may influence the integrity of the sample. Time “matters a great deal,” said Don Catlin, the former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. The substantial time lapse between the initial collection of the sample and when it is actually tested “will raise questions about the integrity of the sample.” Over time, a sample ages due to the live enzymes and other factors in a sample that causes aging. Second, the “chain-of-custody” – that is, the amount of stops the sample experiences before it is finally tested – affects the sample as well. While the Lausanne lab is known for its rapid turn-over time (24-48 hours), the nine-hour flight, coupled with the waiting times at each destination, elevates the risk that samples may become tainted due to lack of care.

FIFA’s testing procedures allow its players to “beat the system.” Generally, U.S. athletes undergo “surprise” testing. Doping officials may test athletes in their homes or hotel rooms without prior notice. Surprise testing is recognized as the most effective antidoping program, “since scientists have largely figured out how to flush the body of performance-enhancing drugs in a matter of hours.” However, Dvorak said “all random pre-competition testing, which began this month, is taking place at stadiums and training sites.” Daniel Eichner, executive director of the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City, is concerned about FIFA’s testing procedure. He commented that “if you always test at training or games, it’s a pretty easy system to beat.”

The Wind Read Zero: Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.49 Enigma 

July 16, 1988 was a historic day in track and field. At the United States Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Indiana, Florence-Griffith Joyner (Flo-Jo) ran a blazing 10.49 time in the quarterfinal heat of the women’s 100 meter dash. Her time was nearly three tenths of a second off the then-world record set at 10.76 – and the wind gauge allegedly read 0.0. The wind gauge read 0.0 within the next heat as well, which led to another group of speedier-than-average times – even for world class sprinters at that time. While many may see the time and consequently drop their jaws (if they understand just how fast that is), others wonder about its questionable validity based on the surrounding controversy.

Background: some events in track and field have wind gauges – the 100 meter dash being one of them – and if the wind reading is over 2.0 meters per second, the mark or time is considered a “wind-aided” mark. Wind-aided marks cannot become world records. What puzzles individuals is that other wind readings from that day in other events (for instance, the triple jump, which took place simultaneously) “had an aiding wind in excess of the legal limit of 2.0 meters per second.” Omega, the timing company for the meet, “maintained that the wind reading was correct.”  The Athletics Congress (TAC), the sport’s national governing body at the time and the IAAF both accepted the mark, and “10.49 was ratified as the world record in the women’s 100.”

Her record still holds up today. The next closest mark on the all-time list? Flo-Jo – at 10.61 – the day after her world record. Al Joyner, Flo-Jo’s husband, said to CNN after her death, “At first, when she beat the record, they said it was wind assisted. Later when she won the medals they said it was drugs.” The article then goes into an unusual sequence of small blurbs about the controversy. One blurb that sticks out is by Mike Takaha: “There were a whole bunch of people that ran really fast there, and not just for that one race, but throughout the series….the prelims and the semis that just…it was crazy…It was like “what the heck is going on here?” Did gravity stop working or what?” Others discussed how windy it was, and triple jumpers competing at the same time remarked how well its competition went in producing two 18-meter jumpers. It’s a long list of comments and remarks, so you can sift through at your leisure.

In sponsorship news, a new sports apparel called 1st Round Athletics recently signed Shawn Crawford, the Olympic gold medalist in the 200 meter at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and rookie linebacker Jordan Campbell of the Kansas City Chiefs (NFL). The company designs innovative clothing. Currently, it is “seeking investment on crowdfunding site indiegogo, weaves a mineral compound yarn into its products in order to deliver up to 12 per cent more oxygen to the wearer’s muscles, and therefore reduce fatigue.”

There’s an article that male marathoners who run annual marathons may be increasing their risk of having heart attacks. Scientists conducted a study on males who ran a marathon every year for twenty-five years in a row, and found that they had increased levels of artery plaque in their hearts.

Finally, the prosecution in Oscar Pistorius’ trial has rested, so the defense team will begin presenting its side of the case tomorrow.

More Rio problems, Pistorius trial updates

Will Rio Succeed, Or Fail? Cultural Mindset An Influencing Factor

We start this morning with more news about Rio and the concerns many have in Rio’s ability to finish its projects in time for the Summer Olympics in 2016. Some doubt the decision to choose Rio, but there are a number of positive factors to consider. Recently, a US reporter visited the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Coordination Commission in Rio to learn about its progress (or in Rio’s case, its lethargic process). Although another reporter remarked to the author of this article that things in Brazil “get done in the end just fine…but they are always last minute,” their apparent lack of organization and other glaring faults questions Rio’s ability to pull itself out of this one.

From there, the article shifts gears and focuses on the number of positives in having a country like Brazil host the Olympics. First, Rio’s hosting of the Olympics will mark the first time a South American country has ever played host to any Olympics. It will occur in a new country, on a new continent, and in a new area of the world. Brazil scores a second point based on its rich and beautiful architecture, numerous landmarks (Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacobana Beach), bays, and the “energy and vitality of the Brazilian people.” The author goes into great detail about how the Brazilian people helped him out in situations where he found himself lost (navigating the train station, walking around), and found that in dealing with people, they were quite friendly, even though their English was choppy at best. Although the author’s tour was limited in browsing many of the sites Rio has to offer, the few places the author did visit revealed how much thought and care Rio put into its designs for the venues to depict its culture.

Rio scores a hat-trick (three) when people realize that, aside from four football (soccer) stadiums, all of the competitions will take place in Rio – a feat that few previous Olympics Games offer. Finally, Brazilians exude a passion for many sports – even the ones that receive less worldwide attention, which makes it an ideal location to host an Olympic event.

Unfortunately, much of the issues Brazil face seem to overwhelm the number of positive aspects. Arguably the biggest concern is water pollution. While the events in the water may offer spectacular views, a substantial amount of sewage, waste, and other foreign matter plague the water. While Rio created plans to correct its water pollution by 2016, rumors indicate that Rio has no intention of keeping the pollution at bay post-Olympic competition. A second concern is security. While security is always a concern at any major event, “a recent shooting out in the Manguinhos favela complex” and a government leak admitting that there is “a difficult relationship between people and society in Rio” reflects a disconcerning notion that safety is particularly problematic in Rio. The article downplays safety as a concern in encouraging visitors to “remain vigilant” and to stay away from the favela regions.

A third area that I touched on in a previous article is Rio’s anti-doping capability – or more realistically, its incapability. Unfortunately, Federal University, Rio’s main laboratory for testing, failed to meet dope testing standards for the World Cup. As a result, Switzerland will take possession of the samples after they are collected, and will test them in its own laboratories. However, Rio insists that it will comply with the standards in time for the Games. Substantial pressure from the IOC and WADA remain, which may aid Rio in its goal to comply with the requisite standards.

Rio is way behind in its venue completions, which make this issue number four. Rio claims that the “venues are there,” and that it will not take as much work as people think. However, the substantial disconnect between the federal, state and city governments does not offer much hope for reconciliation. Transparency and corruption (not to mention the rudeness) increase the tally marks to five. Evidently, phrases such as “the c-word” and “you cannot track the money” and other alarming speech pervade Brazilian talk.

Rio’s inability to control its administrative problems brings the total concerns to six. Last week, Rio dealt with a scandal within its volleyball organization, but Rio is trying to overcome these issues by being completely open with the public in how it manages its funds and what bids and contracts Rio endorsed. Finally, Rio struggles with a legacy problem. In other words, it is uncertain how Rio 2016 will better the people around it moving past the Games. Rio is working to achieve a strong legacy by the increasing the amount of jobs, improving public education and improvements to the public transportation systems. These issues seem to stem from attitude. Since the World Cup is less concerned with reaching out to the wider community, its desire to finish its projects on time lessened, making its attitude lackadaisical. In contrast, the attitude towards Rio 2016 is nothing but hopeful, energetic and exciting, as Rio believes it will help its nation immensely. Hopefully, both events will turn out fantastic so that South America will remain in the hunt for future bid solicitations.

Note from a separate but related article: the IOC is quite displeased with the snail-like pace Rio trudges at, which is forcing the IOC to pressure Rio to act faster and finish its projects on time. For instance, there are budget concerns: “Brazilian organizers have so far budgeted for 24 of the 52 projects that will be built for the Games and the cost is already at 44 percent of the original estimate.” Security is of paramount importance, and the idea that it may “feel safe” at times might be in question. Recently, drug gangs attacked police stations near the Maracana Stadium – the location of the World Cup next year – and its attack has only increased concerns over the safety of the athletes, coaches, workers, and fans.

Evidence of Victim Screams Prior to Fired Shots Delivers Serious Blows to Pistorius Defense

Prosecutors presented a “golden thread” piece of evidence in “suggesting Reeva Steenkamp screamed before she died,” which shows an increased likelihood that Pistorius murdered his girlfriend. Pistorius must answer the question of how neighbors heard Reeva Steenkamp screaming prior to her death, as it goes against his own testimony of self-defense and his lacking of knowledge in not knowing who the intruder was at the time he repeatedly fired his gun. The testimony of three neighbors testified that they heard Steenkamp scream prior to the firing of the gunshots bolstered the murder charge. In addition, the pathologist who testified said “it would’ve been ‘abnormal’ for her not to scream from some of her injuries.” A policeman’s testimony on the ballistics of the shooting suggested that Steenkamp “had time to yell” during the shooting; the second shot missed, giving ample time for Steenkamp to yell prior to suffering two more shots from Pistorius’ gun. Du Toit, a defense lawyer not associated with the case, recognized the strength of the prosecution’s case in contending that Pistorius murdered her.

The defense’s contention remains fixed on the idea that the police botched the investigation. Du Toit’s opinion indicates that Pistorius’ own testimony and the defense’s ballistics and forensic experts will serve as the keys to preventing Pistorius from assuming a murder verdict. The prosecution will conclude its presentation of its case sometime next week. The Court will stop the case during the week of April 7, and will pick up again on April 14.

Former Irish priest Neil Horan’s accepted application to run in the London Marathon was recently revoked based on his history of disrupting major sporting events. In 2003, Horan nearly died after “running on the track during Formula One’s British Grand Prix” in protest of the sport. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Horan “ran out on to the course and grabbed hold of Vanderlei de Lima.” His brash actions “almost certainly cost the Brazilian distance runner a gold medal.” Horan hoped to run as an act of redemption for his past mistakes, and it has been ten years since an incident occurred on his behalf. However, Tegan Jones, head of fundraising for St John Ambulance, a voluntary first-aid charity, wrote: “It has been brought to our attention that [Neil Horan has] a history of disrupting major sporting events and [holds] extremist religious views which are not in line with St John Ambulance charity’s values.” Hopefully, Horan’s revocation will not lead to an attempt to disrupt the London Marathon.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) will host its first Olympic Academy conference since 1991 to discuss “focus on Olympism, Olympic and Paralympic issues and athlete development, with the objective being to create a national forum for the exchange of ideas.” The conference will take place at the 1984 Los Angeles Foundation Headquarters next month. Not all of the members are mentioned, but you can glance at the website to see what members USOC chose thus far. One topic I would like to see the USOC discuss is a stationary Olympic Games venue that could be used for later international competitions of great importance.

Rounding out the day, the last article examines Kenya and how it has dominated distance running from the 800m to the marathon.

Rail trails and railroads, happenstance discovery

SCOTUS Decision May Slow Expansion of Trails

Today, we begin with news about a recent Supreme Court decision that may affect the population’s ability to run on abandoned “rail trails” – railroad tracks that became running trails. In the Supreme Court case Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust et al., v. United States, the Court held 8-1 that some government easements for railroad routes expired; of the government easements that expire, the land would revert to the original landowners. The lawsuit began with the man who owned the Medicine Bow Rail Trail, a backwoods rail trail in southern Wyoming. His lawsuit alleged that the land now belonged to him based on the extinguished easement.

Many are concerned about how this little-noted decision will impact the future of rail trails in America. Here’s an interesting historical point to bear in mind: any existing trails that are “railbanked” will remain unaffected by the Court’s decision. Railbanked trails must fit one of the following criteria in order to escape the force of the Court’s decision: it must be “set aside for possible return to rail use—are located in the original 13 colonies, were acquired from private landowners, or were granted by the federal government before 1875.” The article notes that the Court’s decision will affect the land west of the Mississippi, as “the Supreme Court ruled that federal railroad easements granted after 1875 didn’t necessarily come with long-term land rights.” The keyword here is “necessarily” – it’s possible that some federal railroad easements west of the Mississippi did come with long-term land rights – if that’s the case, then any land that comes with long-term land rights can shield itself from reversion, as the Court decision lacks application.

So, what trails are affected? The article states that approximately 80 trails may be affected by this Court decision, and that individuals already filed lawsuits to gain land rights near their property. Kevin Mills, senior vice president of policy and trail development for national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, described some of the perils of the court decision. He believes the decision is “disappointing,” and that the decision will lead ” to more cases where litigation is brought or feared, where it will be an additional hurdle and could slow down progress. It’s apt to have a chilling effect.” Trail running is growing in popularity – “nearly five million people trail-run regularly” – and the possible chilling effect created by the Court decision may decrease the interest in running trails because of the decrease in availability. Justice Sotomayor, the lone dissent in the decision, found that the Court’s analysis of the federal reversionary interest in property right “undermines the legality of thousands of miles of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation.” She acknowledged that the large influx of lawsuits over the land conversions “may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Cold Therapy Better Than Steroids – And Legal

Two American biologists recently “stumbled” upon a potentially amazing discovery: a device that rapidly cools the body through the hands which greatly improves exercise recovery, is perhaps better than steroid use…and is legal. Stanford researchers Dennis Grahn and Craig Heller credited their accidental discovery to their goal of looking for “a model for studying heat dissipation.” The key sentence in the article (in terms of how this technology functions) is this: “by taking advantage of specialized heat-transfer veins in the palms of hands, they can rapidly cool athletes’ core temperatures – and dramatically improve exercise recovery and performance.

How did they stumble upon this discovery? They studied bears, but why? Bears are heavily insulated animals, which explain why they can sleep all winter and not freeze to death. But when spring comes, they still carry all that insulation and that heavy winter coat – what helps them adapt to the warmer temperatures? The scientists discovered that not just bears, but all mammals have “built-in radiators: hairless areas of the body that feature extensive networks of veins very close to the surface of the skin.” Mammals have these areas in different parts of their bodies: “rabbits have them in their ears, rats have them in their tails, dogs have them in their tongues.” On bears, these hairless patches are found on their noses and the pads on bears’ feet. These veins are called AVAs (arteriovenous anastomoses), and they’re well-known for their temperature management. They can cool down these areas quickly, which allow them to live in warmer temperatures. In humans, these AVAs are most notable in the palms of our hands – though, there are some AVAs in our face and feet.

Armed with that understanding, let’s turn to the invention itself. The device is a rigid plastic mitt with a cooler-like apparatus attached. The user puts it on, and the device “creates a slight vacuum,” tightening the already-tight glove. The tightness causes the AVAs in the palm to expand, which draws in more blood, and the water circulating through the gloves rapidly cools down the palm. The system is allegedly better than immersing one’s self in an ice bath, as it concentrates on the body’s “radiator.” If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, then you’re probably wondering why someone could simply put their hands in ice water and experience the same effect. The researchers answered that question: “Because blood flow to the AVAs can be nearly shut off in cold weather, making the hand too cold will have almost no effect on core temperature. Cooling…is therefore a delicate balance.” In essence, putting your hands in cold water will do what you think: you’ll just have cold hands. The scientists would use the gloves for surgery patients recovering from anesthesia.

The gloves’ effect on athletics was not apparent until Vinh Cao – gym rat and coauthor – came to the lab and tested out the device between sets of pull-ups. What the researchers found was astonishing: the use of the gloves effectively erased any muscle fatigue, and enabled Cao to do as many pullups as he was before. “Then in the next six weeks he went from doing 180 pull-ups total to over 620,” said Heller. “That was a rate of physical performance improvement that was just unprecedented.” The researchers tried the experiment with other exercises, and found similar results – astonishingly without any evidence of damaging or overworking the body. Their gloves are used by some Stanford collegiate athletic teams, its professional football teams and even the Manchester United football club.

So, why does cooling down the body work? You can check out the article for the scientific reasoning, but I will put it in layman’s terms. When you work out, your body increases in temperature. Our bodies are temperature sensitive, and there is an enzyme in our bodies responsible for not letting our bodies grow too hot while we exercise. Researchers believe that when the body hits about 104 degrees, the enzyme shuts down and refuses to work until it cools down. There are muscle cells that tell you to “stop” – that’s the body signaling to you that “I’m shutting down because if you keep working, you’ll overheat and die.” Think about a computer or a car overheating: if it runs too hot, you have to shut it down or it’ll stop working completely. The gloves, then, act as coolants to the enzyme, and it allows the body to resume functioning.

Looking at international news, Ugandan female runners stated that they were sexually abused by an unnamed national athletics coach during a month-long running camp in preparation for last week’s Africa Cross-Country Championships. Allegedly, the coach told his women runners that “to run well, they must have sex or give birth.” Ugandan women said that he approached the women at night and forced them into sexual relations. Failure to give in to his desires resulted in physical harm or him chasing them out of camp. The Ugandan women filed a complaint with the Ugandan Athletics Federation (UAF), but it seems that the police appear unsympathetic to their complaints (initially, the women had trouble talking to law enforcement because they didn’t believe the women) and the UAF has denied the allegations.

The UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) warned the government that cutting its budget would impair the UKAD’s ability to test its athletes for Rio 2016, Pistorius is forced to sell his house to pay his legal fees to support his ongoing trial, and 35 year-old Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher signed with Oiselle, a Seattle-based female-oriented brand which caters to empowering women in sports.

The Disciplinary Committee of the Athletics Federation absolved Spanish athlete and politician Marta Domínguez in ruling that there was no sufficient evidence within her alleged irregularities in her biological passport, and that a sanction was unnecessary. Her sole variation is likely due to the fact that she was pregnant at the time she was tested. Finally, the IOC invited Putin to lunch, but Putin has yet to respond…shocking, considering the circumstances (Ukraine, anyone?)

Doping tests, Rio 2016 and WADA updates

Breakthrough in Doping Tests, But Still Behind?

Today’s news begins with some breaking research in doping tests. The  BBC reported on U.S. scientists’ discovery of an inexpensive way to detect performance-enhancing drugs which are “1,000 times more sensitive than current tests.” The scientists who discovered the new testing procedure recently presented its findings at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting. The current testing method uses a mass spectrometer, which zaps a urine sample with a beam of electrons. The electrons “turn atoms into charged particles.” The charged particles then enter the mass spectrometer, which essentially is a scale that weighs particles. From there, scientists can determine whether an athlete has used steroids based on the weight of the particles. Generally, scientists know how much certain steroids weigh, so if it matches, then the athlete took the steroid. However, a problem with this technique is that some of the “doping substances are so small and have a negative electrical charge that they may not produce a strong enough signal for detection.”

U.S. researchers found a way to test even the smallest metabolites. They call their process “Paired Ion Electrospray Ionisation (PIESI).” The system (the mass spectrometer) adds a chemical agent to the sample. The chemical agent binds “minute pieces of steroid or amphetamine” which makes it more visible to the detector. Lead chemist Dr. Daniel Armstrong praised the simplicity and effectiveness of the process: “”We’re talking about parts per trillion, sub-parts per trillion – and the amazing thing is that it is so simple.” Fortunately, the testing is inexpensive, and their results derive mainly from machines already in use; adding the key binding agent is a low cost, as it is commercially available. However, concerns regarding the method may raise doubts about its application. First, the testing seems to work only for urine samples – it doesn’t work for blood doping, nor does it detect human growth hormone. Second, while many reporters work furiously to learn about this new development, no major anti-doping agencies reached out to learn more about this technique (World Anti-Doping Agency, IOC, or USADA). However, if later approval of the testing occurs, there’s a chance doping agencies will adopt it. Thus far, their results fair better than the current testing out there, making the chemists’ futures look bright.

Note: Sky Sports news reported that a number of performance-enhancing drugs exist that continue to evade current testing methods. Athletes have easy access to these drugs, as they are readily available online. The article mentions a drug called MGF, or Mechano Growth Factor. MGF is said to increase muscle growth, yet is undetectable by current tests. Anti-doping agencies are working hard to combat this and similar drugs, but they remain behind the ability to detect them.

2016 Rio Construction: We’re Behind

While U.S. researchers are making strides in the battle against anti-doping, preparations for Rio 2016 continue to worsen. The biggest concern for Rio organizers is the northern, run down region of Rio – specifically, Deodoro. The plan is to have Deodoro host the “second-largest cluster of venues.” The proposed plan includes the following events: “shooting, field hockey, equestrian, canoeing and BMX,” as well as some basketball games. Despite the plan to create these venues to hold the events, construction for that region has yet to begin, and the Games are only 2.5 years away. Rio organizers attribute the lack of construction problem to the dispute “over what level of government was responsible for the project.” I think it’s about time someone takes responsibility for the job and start building, or Rio 2016 will look much like the complaints journalists at Sochi 2016 relayed to the public. Arguably, Rio would be worse – if the construction fails to finish, those events cannot occur.

Environmental concerns also plague the Games. According to scientists and Olympic sailors, Guanabara Bay is notorious for its high pollution of fecal matter (where sailing will be held), as well as floating debris that will inevitably affect the competitions. Rio organizers will address the problem by holding test sailing events in August, as well as others in July 2015 and May 2016 to ensure that operations proceed smoothly. What is interesting (and troublesome) is that the article omits any information or plans Rio organizers have made to clean up the fecal matter.

Whomever thought hosting the World Cup and the Summer Olympics within two years of each other should have seriously reconsidered its position. As it stands, Brazil is spending $11 billion on the World Cup, as well as spending $15 billion (public and private money) for the Summer Olympics. Rio organizers assure the public that it will achieve its goals and finish construction in a timely manner, but it is hard to finish projects when they have yet to begin. $26 billion is a substantial sum to sink into two events so close to one another, yet the article misses out on the conspicuous problem other Olympic host cities faced: will this event damage the city, perhaps the whole country?

While Rio is behind in construction, it is ahead in aggregating sponsorship commitments. Recently, the IOC Coordination Commission visited Rio, and discovered that 80 percent of Rio’s targeted sponsorship commitments will be attained by the time the agreements are finalized. Rio named no sponsors specifically, but it assured the IOC that it will make an announcement in the near future. At least Rio has something on which to hang its hat.

WADA: Jamaica’s Back on Track

WADA executive director David Howman was pleased to announce yesterday that “Jamaican officials have done ”exactly what we’ve asked” to get their anti-doping program back in order after failing to test their world-beating sprinters in the months ahead of the London Olympics.” It helped their program when all twelve members of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) board resigned in November 2013. JADCO continues to face problems from the previous regime, but it is working hard to overcome those battles to reach a point of homeostasis. Unfortunately, Renee-Anne Shirley, the Jamaican woman who exposed JADCO’s failure to conduct enough doping tests leading up to the London Olympics, has been ostracized by her country and forced to flee. While her actions cost her the ability to remain in her country and an entire culture against her, she did help to correct JADCO and put it on the correct path.

In other WADA news, Union Cycliste Internationale president Brian Cookson created a “Union Cycliste Internationale.” He charged the committee with the task of “discovering the full extent of the historical doping problems the sport has faced, including whether the world governing body was complicit in covering up drug cheats, as Lance Armstrong has alleged.” The efforts to discover more about the prevalent doping in cycling over the past decade inspired the independent commission. Cookson’s goal is to figure out the doping problems within cycling so that WADA has fewer questions to field on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in cycling.

There are some rumors that WADA may ban the use of xenon gas, but there’s no official word on its permissive use yet. If you recall that many of Russia’s athletes who competed in Sochi were said to have used xenon gas, you’ll understand how big of an issue this is. If it is banned and it is retroactive, expect to see many of Russia’s medals disappear.

Finally, here’s a short article on the ballistics of how Reeva Steenkamp was shot during yesterday’s trial phase of Oscar Pistorius.