EUGENE, Ore. -- More notes from the track trials:
-- Only two of the three medalists in Sunday's women's triple jump are bound for Beijing. Second-place finisher Shakeema Welch, who went 14.27 meters (46 feet, 10 inches) at the trials, had not previously met the "A" qualifying standard for the Olympics of 14.20 -- and since her mark Sunday was wind-aided, it doesn't count toward that standard, either.
In the past, trials medalists have usually had at least a little additional time after the trials to reach the A standard, but this, mostly because acquiring visas for China is a rather slow-moving process, the trials represent the last opportunity to make that standard, which automatically advances the athletes to the Games. (The lesser B standard is only allows a trials winner to advance, if no one else has met the A standard).
As a result, only first-place Shani Marks and third-place Erica McLain will compete at the Olympics.
-- Cleaning up one other detail from Sunday, Lashinda Demus was not disqualified in the 400 hurdles, as USA Track and Field originally announced. (This didn't make my story, but I'm not sure how widely it may have been reported.) It was Latosha Wallace who was disqualified for "hooking" the seventh hurdle, meaning her foot was judged to have gone around the hurdle, instead of over it.
Demus ended up in fourth place in the 400 hurdles, behind Bejing-bound Tiffany Ross-Williams, Queen Harrison and Sheena Tosta.
-- And one other thing from Sunday: That wind-aided 100 by Tyson Gay was correctly proclaimed the fastest 100 of all time at 9.68 seconds -- although not a record because of the tailwind -- but if you're wondering what is now second, it's a 9.69 by Obadele Thompson of Barbados, who ran a 9.69 with a 5 meters-per-second tailwind at a meet in El Paso, Texas, in 1996
June 2008 Archives
EUGENE, Ore. -- More notes from the track trials:
EUGENE, Ore. -- More from the track trials:
-- One of the odder things about this meet is that -- apparently to reflect the point at which television coverage begins -- the national anthem singer of the day doesn't make an appearance until midway through the schedule. Today, for example, events started at 10 a.m., but the anthem was sung at 2:20 p.m. It feels a little like singing it at halftime of a football game.
This also creates something of an odd etiquette question for those of us working in the media tent behind the grandstands. Do you stand for the anthem? Since you're not actually in where it's being sung, do you keep working? Most people are opting to stand, but a few keep typing away.
-- There are a variety of China-related protests going on around Eugene during the trials, but that's not what I found myself caught in, however briefly, as I came into Hayward Field today.
Pulling into the little media parking "lot" -- it's actually just parking on blocked off University Street, which runs in front of the University of Oregon's aging McArthur Court -- I found myself briefly surrounded by a group of policemen on bicycles, leading and trailing a small group of protesters marching down the street.
Were they up in arms about Darfur? Tibet? Some other Chinese issue?
No. Carrying signs like "Keep Eugene Weird," they were chanting "We want our streets back." Apparently, they were protesting the street closures on the university campus to accommodate the trials and the "festival" around them.
-- Had lunch today with Deena Kastor, the marathoner from Agoura High who is here but not competing, to do an interview for a story you'll read closer to the start of the Olympics.
Kastor is here in part because she wanted to support her fellow athletes, and in part because during the two off-days of the meet, the U.S. Olympic Committee will be doing some of the pre-Olympic processing for athletes, as well as an "ambassador" program in which athletes will be taught some etiquette for China. Being here instead of at home in Mammoth Lakes does not mean time off, however. We met after she'd gone on a hilly 21-mile training run mapped out by her coach, Terrence Mahon, who knows the area well since he attended the University of Oregon.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Notes from the Olympic Track Trials:
-- These sorts of events are often at least as much about civic boosterism as about sports, and the trials-- the first in Eugene in 28 years -- are certainly no exception.
Athletes keep getting asked how they like competing here, the local papers are making much of how knowledgeable and enthusiastic the crowds are (this is the self-proclaimed "Track Town USA," and for better or worse is the birthplace of Nike) and there's a whole lot being said and written about historic Hayward Field. It does seem pretty nice, but not being part of the cult of Pre (Steve Prefontaine, who burned comet-like through the track world before dying in an auto accident at age 24) I can't claim to fully appreciate the history behind it.
Anyway, given Eugene's track pedigree, the locals are not only thrilled to have the meet back -- they'd staged it three times before -- but still seem somewhat irked it ever went away in the first place, as illustrated in a front-page story in the local paper, the Eugene Register-Guard:
"So there, Sacramento. Take that, Indianapolis and Atlanta and New Orleans and anywhere else the Trials have been since Ronald Reagan was in the White House."
A columnist on the same page quoted a visitor from New York as saying the site was "Nicer than Sacramento."
All we need are some references to cowbells and the semi-civilized, and you'd think this was a Lakers-Kings series.
-- The weather here is distinctly un-Oregon like (this morning's Oregonian includes a teaser headline reading, simply, 96!), which is probably a far bigger deal to the locals than to the athletes. As Alyson Felix noted, when asked about the conditions following one of her heats in the 100 on Friday, "I'm from California. It's been hot down there."
But there certainly are a lot of people walking around fanning themselves, and the two longest concession lines Friday at the "festival" surrounding the meet were for the ice cream and shaved-ice stands -- though those were short compared to the queue for a tent where you could fill your cups and bottles from a purified water fountain, for free.
-- The organizers are making much of that "festival," by the way, but it's not nearly the groundbreaking event they're trying to portray. It's just a bunch of space with concession and souvenir stands, as well as booths from all the various sponsors promoting their wares. They had the same thing in Sacramento at the 2004 trials, it seems to me; if there's a difference, it's that this time you can come to the festival and mill around right next to the stadium without a ticket. Why you would want to, exactly, is beyond me; there are big-screen TVs that would allow you to watch the events you can't watch live on home TV, but it's a little hot to be sitting on artificial turf (this is on the U of O soccer field) watching TV.
The big screens flank a stage that will occasionally feature entertainment, which -- as we discovered Friday night -- turns out to be one glaring organizational flaw of the meet to date. That stage is right next to the media's interview tent, and a rock band was in action last night when a press conference was supposed to be going on for the medalists in the women's 10,000 -- making it absolutely impossible to hear a thing in the tent.
Eventually, the band had to be silenced and the press conference went on, but there was a considerable delay -- much to the displeasure of many reporters. (This is also why you had a grand total of one quote from 10,000 winner Shalane Flannigan in your Saturday papers. She started speaking at 10:22 and my story was due at 10:30, so I basically had to time to take down the first thing she said and sprint to my laptop.)
-- Oregon is known for its environmental consciousness, which probably explains why this is the first event I've ever attended with valet bicycle parking. Really.
-- Went to a press conference this morning for 400-meter standout Jeremy Wariner. As is the norm at these meets, it was put on by his shoe company.
In Sacramento, Nike held well-attended daily briefings -- the attendance in part because they used the only air-conditioned building adjacent to the track stadium, in part because they had a bottomless cooler of ice cream. The price for these bits of relief was having to listen to someone list Nike's medal count from the day before making certain key athletes available.
I'm not aware of such briefings this time around. Maybe that's because the overlord of athletic apparel doesn't feel the need, since the entire trials meet is pretty much a signed, sealed and delivered Nike production. Nike -- a major backer of USA Track and Field -- apparently has its own stands for its guests, has produced all the official souvenirs and has a lavish on-site temporary store. And the swoosh is prominent trackside.
Not too many people in the track-media world mind being here in Eugene, given its support of the sport. They do find it odd, though, that the city was awarded the 2012 trials before showing how well it could do with the 2008 edition. Or maybe they don't, since the 2012 trials were awarded in December 2007, and the CEO of USA Track and Field, Craig Masback, left USATF for Nike 29 days later.
Anyway, to get back to Wariner's press conference, it was held by his shoe company, adidas, at a frat house it has rented and turned into its corporate and athletes' lounge for the duration of the meet. In exchange for the opportunity to ask him some questions, we had to sit through some corporate propaganda about the shoes the company has designed for Wariner, who is aiming to break the world record in the 400, as well as repeat as Olympic gold medalist.
The shoe news was actually mildly interesting -- and probably a lot more if you're a track-shoe geek (apparently they do exist). Wariner will actually be wearing what are supposed to be the world's first asymmetrical running shoes, meaning the tread and spike pattern on one foot is different than the other. This, explained adidas technical guru Mic Lussier, is because studies showed Wariner used his feet differently, particularly on the curves, where he's a noted standout: "He likes to land his left foot and stabilize himself, and then his right foot comes in, and now that he's all stable, he can focus on propulsion and direction."
The shoe may have been designed with Wariner in mind, but not surprisingly, there will be a commercial version available shortly.
-- One other thing I learned at that press conference: adidas makes shoes specific to 27 of the 28 Olympic sports. The exception is the equestrian events -- since they don't make horseshoes -- but this does mean that, yes, they make shoes specifically for table tennis and badminton -- as well as a new high-tech slipper for the swimmers and divers.
EL SEGUNDO -- The Lakers aren't exactly excited about having Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol participate in the Olympics, but they know they're not in a position to prevent it.
"I played in one of those tournaments many, many years ago," said general manager Mitch Kupchak, a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. team at the 1976 Olympics, "so it's hard for me to say a player shouldn't experience that, from a personal point of view.
"From an organizational point of view, and a selfish point of view, you'd like your players -- particularly the ones who've played through June -- to get nothing but rest. But when it's your country involved, and your players are clearly passionate about it, I don't know how you can step in and say it's not something we want you to do."
Coach Phil Jackson also noted the players' enthusiasm.
"They're so gung-ho about it," said Jackson, "that I just have to allow them my blessing to play, even though they know my feelings about it.
"They know how we feel about their talents and we want their talents to be used for people that really pay their salaries, obviously."
Bryant and Gasol might not be the only ones in action this summer. Jackson said Ronny Turiaf (Martinique) and D.J. Mbenga (Congo) could play for their national teams this summer, as well.
Other notes from Friday's concluding day of exit interviews:
-- Andrew Bynum said he remains on track to begin jogging in early July after knee surgery to repair his injured kneecap. "There's no pain on the kneecap," he said, only some minor discomfort at the point of the incision.
Bynum also said it was difficult to only be able to watch as the Lakers lost the NBA Final to Boston.
"You definitely want to be playing when your team's struggling," he said. "It was horrible. ... People didn't see me as much as they wanted to, but it was just real hard to sit right there but (you) can't do anything."
He's also looking forward to finally getting to play with Gasol.
"I think it will work great," he said. "The guy's unbelievable. He's got a lot of skills. He can be on the weak side with Kobe, and I think that's going to be a phenomenal one-two (punch). Like he'll be playing the pinch post and isolating on the wing on the side block, and I'll be able to be in there doing what I do, block shots and get rebounds, getting duck-ins off the post and get in low position and wait for the ball."
-- Lamar Odom is also confident he can work in combination with Bynum and Gasol. The difference, he said, will mostly be defensive, "because it's a little different from playing a power forward to playing a small forward. ... Get my core and my leg strength down, pick my feet up a little bit. I'm looking forward to it.
"Offensively, it won't be (difficult). I'll just use the same advantage I use now. Bigger than a three (small forward), you can take him to the post, and playing a four (power forward), you can take him outside."
Odom tried to shrug off criticism of his play during the Finals, and media speculation he might be traded this offseason.
"Sometimes, I just realize that some people don't understand," he said, regarding those who want him to do more. "People that know the game, they understand what I do and how I do it."
Odom -- who said he wants to end his career as a Laker -- said the speculation about his future came up during his exit interview with Kupchak.
"It's crazy," he said, "because as soon as I walked into my meeting, Mitch said, 'I'm sorry about something that came out in the paper yesterday.'
"It's been going on ever since I've been here. I came over in a pretty big trade. Since then, we've missed the playoffs, lost twice in the first round and then lost in the championship. I know people want results, and results are winning consistently."
-- Derek Fisher is confident the Lakers will be better in 2008-09 as a result of the experience they gained this year -- including the thumping by Boston in the NBA Finals.
"It takes some experiencing of the process to gain a better understanding of the commitment it takes to get there," said Fisher. "I think for a moment there, we thought we already knew. ... We still know there's a gap there that we have to close.
"The best defensive team in the NBA, they were the champions. The season before, the San Antonio Spurs, they've always been one of the better defensive team, and they won a championship. So understanding that physically being present and stopping people on the defensive end are always going to be required, almost mandatory, to be a champion. ...
Hopefully, you want to come back better individually, and that makes the sum of the parts even greater."
EL SEGUNDO -- The next time Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol meet on a basketball court, they'll be on opposing teams at the Summer Olympics.
Bryant has shared with Gasol his thoughts on how it's going to turn out.
"I said, 'Pau, being that we lost this (NBA Finals) series, you (expletives) have no chance at a gold medal,' " Bryant said Thursday. " 'No chance. I ain't going 0 for 2, homie.' "
On the day they, and most of the other Lakers, held their season-ending exit interviews following the six-game loss to Boston in the NBA Finals, Bryant and Gasol looked ahead to playing in Beijing.
The 12-member U.S. team won't be announced until Monday, but it's a pretty safe bet Bryant will be part of it -- putting him and the rest of Team USA on track to meet Gasol's team from Spain on Aug. 16 in the fourth game of pool play in Beijing.
A smiling Gasol said Bryant's comment wasn't anything he hadn't heard before.
"That's been the threat the whole time," Gasol said. "He talks a lot of, you know -- he talks a lot. And that's fine. They have a great team. We know they're going to be the favorite team and the team to beat.
"I think it's a good thing we have them in our group, just because we won't have to face them, no matter what, in the quarterfinals, and that's a big thing, because they're dangerous and they're very powerful. Hopefully we'll meet them down in the end, the final. That would be great."
The U.S. and Spain are part of Group B in the Olympic tournament, along with Angola, the host Chinese team, and two teams to be determined in a qualifying tournament July 14-20 in Athens, Greece.
Coming after a full NBA season, the Olympic tournament will cost both players most of the period of rest and recovery that usually comes during the summer, but neither has any hesitation about participating.
"I'm ready to go," said Bryant. "I'm chomping at the bit. ...
"It's competition at its highest level. You're not representing a particular brand or a state. You're representing your country. You're representing the USA. And to me, that's beyond special. And it's our opportunity to go out and make our country proud."
Then there's the Olympic experience itself.
"You get to see the top athletes in every sport in the world, and they're all in the same village," said Gasol, the leading scorer in the 2004 Olympic tournament, when Spain finished fifth. "I think that's cool. My experience in Athens was fun. It was good to be around that."
Beyond that, he said, "It's special, and you want to represent your country, and you want to get a medal for your country, and your whole country is pulling for you. It's an event that's followed worldwide, and that gives it a special touch, a difference from any other tournament."
For both players, it will make for a summer like no other -- for Bryant, because it will be his first Olympics, and for Gasol, because it follows his longest NBA season ever.
"It's different," said Bryant. "But the formula (for workouts and rest) pretty much stays the same. So it shouldn't be too difficult to figure it out."
That, he said, is why he has trainers he works with in the offseason.
"This is what they do," he said. "I just listen, and do what they say in terms of resting my body and strengthening it, and conditioning. I just listen to them. They're fantastic."
Gasol has a similar support staff, but knows that the summer is "going to be pretty crazy.
"I've never finished the season June 20th," he said. "I've always finished April 15, at the top, May 4th (while with Memphis). The fourth game of the playoffs we were out, the three years that we got there. That in itself is a big difference.
"Then the fact of the Olympics being earlier than other competitions internationally, it also makes it difficult, because it gives you a very short period to recover from our season here. So that's going to be a challenge again."
LOS ANGELES -- Well, this was a move designed for a maximum lack of impact.
In that regard, at least, the timing of the Kings' decision Tuesday to fire coach Marc Crawford make some sense. With the greater L.A. area wholly focused on some little basketball game at Staples Center, and the hockey world focused on Ron Wilson's hiring in Toronto (since the Canadian-based hockey media believes Toronto is the axis of the hockey universe), Crawford's ouster after two seasons figures to get very little attention.
Which, presumably, is what the Kings want, since in so many other ways the timing seems so bizarre. If Crawford was going to go, why not immediately after the Kings went 32-43-7 and missed the playoffs for the umpteenth time?
General manager Dean Lombardi -- in an afternoon conference call long on rambling generalizations and short on concrete answers -- essentially said the Kings had decided they needed a different coach to deal with building a team with young players.
"Ultimately," he said, "it comes down to meeting with ownership and their commitment to staying with this plan ... building a young core the old-fashioned way."
For some reason, that was a decision better made in June than April. Lombardi talked a lot about organizational meetings projecting the shape of the roster to come, based on free agency, the draft, and promotion of players from the minor-league system, but that means the decision to change coaches is based on a roster that does not yet exist. Free agents can't be signed for another month, the draft is a week away, and projecting the promotion of minor-leaguers is an uncertain science.
So, based on players the Kings don't have -- and might never have -- it was time to change coaches. Strange move. Or at least a strange justification.
This is not to say it's necessarily wrong. Crawford can be a tough taskmaster, and that may not be the best approach with young players, as Lombardi noted.
"I think the ability to communicate and build trust is critical," Lombardi said. "The fear factor is not there as it was in the past."
Later, he added, "You better be prepared to answer why when they ask a question."
Still, Crawford hasn't changed in the last two months, and if communication skills are the issue now, it's hard to see that they were any less of an issue at the end of April.
Lombardi said he's open to hiring a coach without NHL head-coaching experience, and plans to ask current assistant Mike Johnston if he's interested in pursuing the job.
He also said he considers this a "critical hire" and that the team will not rush to make it.
But the real critical issue that remains for the Kings -- the one that kept Crawford from doing as well as the organization might have hoped, and quickly eliminated the team from playoff contention -- isn't one of coaching. Lombardi touched on that issue when he was asked if hiring Crawford proved to be a "miscalculation."
Said Lombardi, "The goaltending completely went south, and then you get into why that happened, that we were 30th in the league."
Without goaltending, no coach is going to succeed.
And when you consider the lack of goaltending, you end up looking at the guy who provides the talent, not the one who coaches it.
And you're a lot more likely to think about that question if the firing of the coach has any chance to make a ripple.
Which makes Tuesday's move perfectly timed -- if you happen to be Dean Lombardi.
He has covered the last four Olympics, as well as the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, NCAA Final Four and a wide variety of other events.