You should sit down for this one, if your not sitting down, I hope you have comfortable shoes on because this one may take a while. If you don’t have a while to read this blog, I suggest you just come back later when your bored.
Still there? Ok, here we go...
I recently had an interview with Tim Huntley, and “My athletics Life” … It pretty much summarizes most of this blog, so if you want the toned down version, go here:
Wisdom: "A deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act or inspire to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time, energy or thought". You know the saying, with age comes wisdom? Well I never really thought about how accurate that saying would be, until... well...one gains wisdom with age. If you really look at the definition of wisdom, I mean really look at it, I believe that it could be the ultimate goal that encompasses everything in life.
“A deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations” Understanding the people around you, the things that influence those around you, the situations that influence the things that effect those around you...and knowing how to manipulate all of those things and be in control of your own environment so that you are always acting, not reacting to the world around you.
“...Resulting in the ability to choose or act or inspire to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time, energy or thought". That to me sounds like the ultimate goal of all athletics, and equally life as well.
This blog is my last blog, the final blog of my, um… blogging career? I have had a few months to reflect on my last 4 years of writing blogs for In the Arena, and I believe that it is fitting that the 1st thing that I address is how vital and important ITA has been, and still continues to be in my career. I can honestly say, hands down, without a doubt, that Amory Rowe, and In the Arena, has been the single most influential factor in my athletic career. That’s a huge statement, given the amount of people who have helped me along my journey. But of all the help and support that I have received throughout my journey, none go as far as good old-fashioned financial support. Some people offer emotional support, moral support, nutrition support, training and technical advice...but at the end of the day, all of that support is void if you cant pay your bills. That’s where Amory stepped in and took a chance on me. My parents took a major hit in this department as well, delaying their own retirement as they helped me chase my Olympic Dream for almost 4 years. There are no words to describe the depth of my gratitude to my parents and to Amory.
I titled this blog, “The State of the Union” because I felt it was fitting for me to reflect on what I have learned in the last decade, traveling the world, throwing a stick and trying to make ends meet. The State of the Union, if you didn’t know, is the annual address presented by the President to the Congress. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the president to outline his legislative agenda. Well, my State of the Union is about the world of professional athletics. And the State of our Union is in total chaos.
Track and Field is dying, and dying fast and the “Olympic Movement” is as weak as it ever has been. One of the best interviews that I have ever heard was from my old roommate, 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist in the pole vault, Toby Stevenson. It pretty much wraps up the State of our Union. The interview can be seen here:
If you have another 30min or so to hear the 2nd greatest interview of all time, have a listen to another one of my old roommates, 2011 National Champion in the Discus, Jarred Rome:
Since we are on the topic of awesome interviews, here's a piece from my fellow Olympian and Oregon Track Club poster boy, Nick Symmonds:
In my opinion, the only thing that keeps the sports glimmer of hope alive is the strength in numbers. As Toby said, we have 350 million people in this country. Someone, somewhere will come out of the current system we have, and for now, that seems to be ok for our National Governing Body. We currently have without a doubt the world’s greatest track and field team, so why would USATF change what they are doing? In the words of Woodrow Wilson, ”If you want to make enemies, try to change something” But how good could we really be?
Jarred outlines the difficulties associated with being a USA athlete, a thrower at that. An athlete that makes his or her living based on a competition schedule that takes place almost exclusively in Europe and Asia. Since I started competing “professionally” in 2005, I have competed in the USA a grand total of 20 times, and that includes 6 National Championships, that I am “required” to compete in according to USATF.
** side note** La Shawn Merritt didn’t have to compete at Nationals this year, and still got a free ride to Worlds, and that after coming off a doping suspension… I thought I remember USATF saying something about “zero-tolerance” … remember that?
Oh yeah, he didn’t compete at Nationals, even though he was the reigning World Champion, USATF Rules state:
“A reigning World Champion who competes at the 2011 USA Track & Field Championships receives an automatic bye into the World Championships for the event in which he or she is reigning World Champion whether or not he or she has achieved the corresponding entry standard. These athletes are not required to compete in the same event in which they are reining World Champions at the 2011 Outdoor Championships in order to receive the bye. “
I guess the kicker here is the “Other Requirements” section that also states that:
“In order to be eligible to be a member of the Team, an athlete must be a USA Track & Field member in good standing at the time of the 2011 USA Track & Field Championships and for the duration of the World Championships.”
So let me get this straight, we let a guy who didn’t compete at our Nationals, AT ALL, not even in a different event onto the World Championship Team. Furthermore, was he in “good standing” with USATF at the time of Nationals? No, he was serving a doping suspension… Zero Tolerance MY ASS!!
Anyways, back to the meat of the story… I competed in the states a total of 20 times, 6 of which I was eh hem ...” required”. That leaves a total of 14 competitions that where "discretionary" and I guarantee you, yielded no financial return. That compared to over 70 competitions while traveling abroad. As Jarred mentioned in his interview, most of the times the chips are stacked against you as you have to travel over 30 hours, live out of a bag, eat foreign food and fight with jet lag...while trying to bang with the best in the world who almost always have a 2 hour travel day and slept in their own bed the night before. Life as an American thrower is tough, but that’s what makes us who we are, it is what it is and it will never change. All we can do is get ours while we are in the mix and get out and pass on what wisdom we picked up along the way to the next group.
“Making the Team”
Making the USA World or Olympic Team is hands down the hardest team to make, and in some events, harder to win than Worlds itself. Do we send our best team? Absolutely not, we send who was good on that day, which is often a full month or more away from the actual major championship. It happens every year, whether it’s our best sprinter, pole vaulter, or thrower, someone is always left at home when they have established themselves as the best we have the entire season. It’s a system that is broken and needs to be amended. I have my own idea on how to fix the problem, but to save you some boredom, I wont detail it here. I remember seeing a banner in Eugene at the trails in 08 that said “The hardest team to make” … I wonder how many of our European competitors have to see that? They don’t need to make a team, they are the team.
“World Ranking and the Tier System”
The Tier System...it could go down as one of the stupidest ideas that has ever been contrived. It shows the true lack of understanding of how the World Ranking system is implemented. The current US “funding system” is based upon a “Tier System” that puts athletes into brackets based on their “World Ranking”. However, the current World Ranking System awards performances at Diamond Leagues only. Outside Diamond Leagues, you of course have the World and Olympic Games, but those are only 1 meet per year, so if you are not on a World or Olympic Team, and do not compete in a Diamond League meet, you virtually have NO chance at securing enough points to get a high enough world ranking for USATF to fund you in the tier system. For example:
I received a grand total of 100 bonus points for winning our National championships this year. Think about it, 100 points for winning nationals...winning Nationals for the "Worlds Greatest Track Team?" That’s the same amount of bonus points for getting 6th at a Diamond League event...so basically, if I hung around the Diamond League Circuit all year and got between 6th-8th place with the exact same throw that I had at Nationals, my world Ranking would jump 20 places and I would be top 10 in the world. However, I won several meets in Europe or placed in the top 3 with the same distance, and earned only 10-15 bonus points. The same throw, same places, 80-90 points less...that equals a drop in the World Ranking and a drop in funding. Just another awesome idea by USATF.
As I wrap up this final blog entry, I want to make it very clear that I would have not changed anything that I have done, and am truly blessed and grateful for all the opportunities that have been provided to me. I have had an enchanted athletic career thus far and I look at where I am now and where I came from and it gives me great pride. I look at it this way, I love my job… I just hate my boss!
I learned something a few months back, that the greatest energy of all is gratitude. But gratitude comes from the heart, not from the head. And that being said I would like to sign off once and for all with a heart felt thank you to Amory Rowe and In the Arena for all of her help and support the last few years. No words can explain the depth of heartfelt gratitude that my family and I have for Amory and ITA.
A huge heartfelt thanks to Tom Jackovic, Jack Wickens, Larry Litzky, Mark James, Willie Banks, and the rest of the USATF Foundation. Unlike USA Track and Field, the USATF Foundation actually understands what development is and targets potential athletes who not only possess the physical talent but the drive, character and determination to push through the numerous difficulties that accompany post collegiate athletics. They do a great job of identifying athletes who have the intangibles and make future Olympic Teams – these are the outliers who don’t fit into the USA Track and Field traditional “development” model. Without the support of the USATF Foundation, I would not be where I am today.
My coach, Ty Sevin...The only coach I have really ever had. Ty let me crash on his couch for almost 4 months in 2003 while I tried to figure this sport out and look for a job. He put up with my techno music before and after practice and my OCD, and his patience with me is a virtue that not many people posses and to him I am unbelievably thankful. I only wish I had a federation that wouldn't take away his coaching stipend that I and he rightfully earned through hard work, because he is technically an employee of USATF.
The State of our Union is dying...but with the help of Amory Rowe, the USATF Foundation, the Professional Athletes Association, and athlete ambassadors such as Adam Nelson, our sport may have a chance. But the change must start at the top.
"Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."
—John F. Kennedy
2011 USA National Champion
Top 10 Performances Ranks #3 in American History
2 Times Ranked Top 10 in the World
3 Times Ranked #1 in USA
4 Times USA National Championship Silver Medalist
2 Time World Championship Team Member
2010 World Cup Team Member
2007 Pan American Games Silver Medalist