There was a lot more to the Project 30 Task Force report -- a study recommending major reforms in the U.S. track culture -- than I could cover in my column on Deena Kastor's involvement in the task force
Before reading more of Deena's comments, you might want to learn more about the report.
A fairly detailed summary of the report is available here, at the USA Track and Field web site. There's a link at end of that page to a pdf file the full 69-page report, or you can get it here. It's not a quick read, and some of it is probably only of interest if you're a world-class athlete or a member of USATF, but it does provide more insight into and support of the task force's findings and conclusions.
If you're interested in seeing a few of the news reports on report's release, here are stories from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and from the Indianapolis Star by my friend David Woods, who has a very strong background in track and field.
With all that as prelude, then, here are some of Deena's other comments during a phone conversation from her home in Mammoth Lakes:
On how she became involved with Project 30 (named for the goal of 30 medals at the London Games):
"Aretha Hill Thurmond" -- a three-time Olympian in the discus -- "and I were added on a little late, because they realized they didn't have athlete representation. They had coaches and scientists and USOC members and USA Track and Field members on the panel. Really, the knowledge we had in front of us was unbelievable as far as statistics and past performances. I had a binder that was I don't know how many hundreds of pages long of past results from Olympic Games to world championships to individual performances and gold medalists and how things worked and didn't work -- the plans people had that worked and the ones that didn't follow through as well as planned. So it was really amazing to have that knowledge in front of me in the first place.
"And then to sit around the table and collectively make recommendations to Doug Logan, our new CEO of USA Track and Field, to how we're going to get 30 medals in the London Olympics was really exhiliarating, and everybody stuck on task and everybody was really passionate about how to make choices for the athletes to succeed four years down the road.
So it was a thrill to be a part of it. I learned a lot as well as gave a lot of my own personal information, as well as interviewing athletes -- each one chose to be anonymous, but interviewing athletes over the phone or face to face on their thoughts in the direction that they would need for success. And I brought their thoughts to the table."
On the task force's recommendation to eliminate the National Relay Program, an expensive -- and not particularly successful, based on recent results -- effort to prepare Olympic athletes for the 4x100 and 4x400 relays:
"From an athlete standpoint, I guess I was surprised that the relay plan, people thought it was so dysfunctional. Because I thought it was dysfunctional from the start, but I'm a distance runner, so I just chalked it up to me not understanding why we need to spend almost $100,000 on each men's and women's relay team to fulfill getting a baton around the track. It didn't seem like these athletes didn't need to be invested in that much.
"But I learned that a lot of people had a problem with it. So that was one thing that surprised me. I just thought I was naïve to the sport to think we needed that program."
To me, one of the more startling statements in the report was that "too few American athletes enter an Olympic Games with a goal of winning or even medaling," and I mentioned that to Deena.
"Right," she said. "And we looked a lot at performances at the Olympic Trials -- pre-Olympic Trials, Olympic Trials, competition in between the Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games, and people weren't having their best performances in the Olympic Games. So part of our intentions were to figure out how to do that.
"So we looked at the people who did have their best performances in the Olympic Games -- not just in Beijing, but in Athens and Australia and Atlanta; I mean, we looked back years and years to get data for this, to figure out what was that right combination of running and racing and trials preparation.
"We saw that in our recommendation of trimming down the length of the Olympic Trials, that most of our success comes in the World Championships, when our trials aren't as long. So that was one thing that alluded to maybe burning some athletes out, both on a monetary basis and an emotional and physical basis. So cutting that out seemed to help the athletes in many different ways, cutting the length of the trials.
"So there were so many details that we worked out. Some things didn't need to be changed at all because they worked well, and other things needed some severe rearranging and rescheduling."
She's aware that the people of Eugene, who will host the Trials in 2012 after having hosted them in 2008, have not reacted well to the idea of shortening the length of the trials. It was, after all, an economic boon to the city.
"We took that into consideration for only a moment," she said, "because our greatest concern was what's best for the athletes.
But when we looked at it very briefly, we thought, wow, it's worth tightening up the (trials). And we're cutting out maybe some of the rounds of the 100 and 200 by tightening the standards and not maybe having a two-day break between, we can really tighten up the package of our media exposure. So looking at it from a television standpoint, that it's going to be fast and fun and the tempo of watching these games is going to be exciting and entertaining rather than having these lulls and dead periods in between events, that there's going to be something going on, on the track or on the field, at all times, is pretty exciting to watch.
So I think it's going to end up helping a lot more than it's going to hinder people being away for a few extra days.
"I can see their concern with not having beds for as long, or not having hotels being filled for those extra five days or however many days they end up cutting it, if Doug Logan even decides to do that.
"So I can see Eugene's concern in that respect, but I think altogether, it's going to be a much tighter, more exciting package for everybody."
Officially, she noted, the task force has completed its job, but it will be given the chance to monitor what happens to its recommendations.
"We put so many hours of time into this. Our recommendations are complete; that's sealed and final, but we are going to meet a couple of times each year from now until London. Doug Logan, our CEO, just wants to make sure we're keeping him accountable for this. He hired us to come up with this, and he wants us to make sure that he's staying on task and in the right direction and moving at a good pace. So he asked us to meet for the next four years, just to make sure that things are progressing."