21 Photos from the 2014 Miner’s Day International Track Meet in Velenje, Slovenia

This is David Bett of Kenya, the winner of the 5000m race at the Miner’s Day International Track Meet in Velenje, Slovenia, last night (1 July). Here, with about 200 meters to go, he’s beginning to kick away from Olivier Irabaruta of Burundi, who finished runner-up.

I covered the meet for the IAAF, track’s international governing body, and also filed 21 photos of (mostly) lesser-known or up-and-coming athletes for Demotix; you can read the report here, and check out the photos here. The photo gallery includes:

Men’s hammer throw:
Pawel Fajdek (POL)
Krisztian Pars (HUN)
Primoz Kozmus (SLO)
Marcel Lomnicky (SVK)
Szymon Ziolkowski (POL)
Lukas Melich (CZE)
Mohamed Ali Al-Zankawi (KUW)
Paul Huetzen (GER)
Wojciech Nowicki (POL)

Women’s javelin throw:
Martina Ratej (SLO)
Linda Stahl (GER)
Nikola Ogrodnikova (CZE)
Irena Sediva (CZE)

Women’s pole vault:
Katharina Bauer (GER)

Men’s 5000m:
David Bett (KEN)
Olivier Irabaruta (BDI)
William Malel Sitonik (KEN)
Erik Tirop Kimaru (KEN)

Women’s 1500m:
Amela Terzic (SRB)
Federica del Buono (ITA)

For licensing (editorial use only), get in touch via Demotix. Cheers!

 

Chicherova: ‘I want another chance to jump at 2.10’

Chicherova: ‘I want another chance to jump at 2.10’

Some thoughts from recently-minted Olympic high jump champion Anna Chicherova of Russia ahead of the Van Damme Memorial her last meet of the year here in Brussels. From the intro:

Anna Chicherova has just one wish prior to tomorrow evening’s Samsung Diamond League finale in Brussels: conditions similar to last year’s meeting which will allow her to once again challenge the World record.

“I hope that everything will be ok. I’ll be so happy if I have a chance to jump like last year, where I tried to jump 2.10,” the 30-year-old Russian said, speaking to a crowded press conference room this morning. “My shape is not so perfect, but I’ll try it. I’ll be very happy to have a chance to try it, to even reach that stage tomorrow.”

Chicherova fondly recalls last year’s Memorial van Damme competition, one she won at 2.05m before ending with her first-ever attempts at a would-be 2.10m World record. There wasn’t too much missing between her best attempts and the 2.09m standard that has stood since 1987.

“Before last year, I thought (the World record) was too high, too hard. But after last year I was so inspired with my attempts here. That gave me so much motivation for this year.”

But Chicherova now concedes that the ambitions spurred on by those leaps in Brussels contributed to a classic case of “overdoing it”, both in training and in competition which in turn led to injuries that dogged her much of this year. Upon reflection, she believes that it will be best to skip the next indoor season to avoid a replay of a same scenario.

“I must do something different for next year, because it caused me too many problems.”

Those problems, more specifically an injury that spread from one side of her back to the other, were very difficult to overcome as the London Games approached, she said.

“After (the World Indoor Championships in) Istanbul everything changed,” she said, referring to when the stubborn back pains began. “I had more difficulties. The injury I had there changed everything. I didn’t think that my Olympic preparation would be so hard. To tell you the truth, I can’t understand how (the Olympic victory) even happened.”

Inconsistencies in training and competition, coupled with the unpredictable back pains, often left her in tears and her characteristic self-confidence in tatters.

“It was so hard,” she said. “I was crying a lot. I had no confidence like last year. (London) was the first time that I was scared and nervous before a qualification round.”

The rest for the IAAF.

With Momentum on His Side, Mottram Relishes Dream Mile Opportunity

With Momentum on His Side, Mottram Relishes Dream Mile Opportunity

A few words with Australian middle distance standout Craig Mottram on the eve of his appearance at the Dream Mile at Oslo’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games. The Intro:

Despite his oft-displayed humour, cheeky irreverence and laid back attitude, Craig Mottram has nothing but the utmost respect for tomorrow’s Dream Mile, the meet-capping signature event of the ExxonMobil Bislett Games, which is the start of the IAAF Golden League 2007.

“Tomorrow night’s going to be very tough to win,” said the 26-year-old Australian. “We’ve got a great field, it’s always loaded. That’s why it’s called the Dream Mile. There’s always great athletes and that’s why it’s a big challenge to win. Tomorrow night will be no exception. It’s going to be a great race.”

By any measure, the field is indeed deep with talent. Kenyans Alex Kipchirchir, arguably last season’s finest miler, and Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, the fastest in the world last year at 1500 metres and the winner of last weekend’s fast Prefontaine Classic race in 3:48.28, are both in the field.

But Mottram also arrives in the Norwegian capital with an impressive bit of momentum after his convincing 8:03.50 Prefontaine Two Mile victory over an all-star field. While the distance is rarely contested, Mottram’s performance is noteworthy for the fact that only Daniel Komen and Haile Gebrselassie have ever covered the distance faster.

“For this point in the season that was good running,” he said. “I spent five or six weeks at altitude in Flagstaff (Arizona) and it’s all part of getting ready for the World Championships. I haven’t lost sight of that. There’s still a lot of time and a lot work to be done before the World Championships. The race last week was a great result. And the race tomorrow will be another step in the right direction.”

Two years ago, his appearance in the Mile here was also a step in the right direction for the two-time IAAF World Cup 3000m champion. In a fiercely competitive race, he finished fifth, clocking a 3:49.98 Australian record.

“I ran a good Mile here at the beginning of the season and eventually went and got a medal at the World Championships,” Mottram said, referring to his bronze in Helsinki.

Mottram said he appreciates the camaraderie among the runners before the race all of whom, he firmly believes, come here to run their competitive best, despite the early date on the season calendar.

“This race has a lot of history behind it. Over the years everyone who’s come here to run has run well. It’s a good opportunity to come and run hard. Most people are coming here from a good chunk of training and racing here is a good indication of how that training had gone.”

“The Mile is an event that’s not often run,” he continued, “so we when you get the opportunity to do it, especially here in Oslo, then you make the most of it.”

The rest for the IAAF.

Time to Deliver For US Miler Alan Webb – a 2004 Interview

 

 

Shortly after leaping a World outdoor best of 4.83m in Ostrava’s Vitkovice Stadium early last June, pole vaulter Stacy Dragila politely, if abruptly, interrupted an interview as the men’s 1500 metres concluded. Her eyes popped wide open as she looked at the finish line just a few metres behind her.

Stunned, she asked, “Did Alan just win?”

Originally published in IAAF Magazine, No 1 – 2005

She was referring to American miler Alan Webb, who had just dispensed with the finest international 1500 metre field yet assembled in the 2004 season. Among the vanquished were perennial top miler Bernard Lagat, Olympic champion Noah Ngeny, and Ukraine’s swift-kicking Ivan Heshko.

When he powered across the finish line with a personal best and World leading 3:32.73, Webb punched his fist into the eastern Czech sky. As collective jaws dropped in the sold-out stadium, a vivacious ear-to-ear smile emerged.

“I feel great!” Webb said after the race, clutching his winner’s trophy, a dazzling crystal running shoe laced with gold trim. “I just raced away. I figured, I’ll either die and run fast, or I’ll win and run fast.”

It was the international breakthrough that so many longed for and expected from the then 21-year-old since he entered the American athletics conscience as a teenager at the 2001 Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, when he broke Jim Ryun’s 36-year-old national high school record in the Mile. Moreover, his 3:53.43 performance at that race was the fastest mile by an American since 1998, signaling the start of his role as “the Next Great American Miler.” His exploits brought the sport not only back to prominent placement in the sports pages; he, along with his picture, was on newspaper front pages across the country. Simply put, no other athlete in recent memory has so profoundly captured the imagination of the sport in the United States.

His position in the sport in 21st Century America cannot be overstated. Since eclipsing Ryun’s legendary mark late that Spring four years ago, his every race announcement is featured prominently in press releases and promotional material; virtually each detail of every performance is replayed, analyzed, glamorized and sometimes even chastised by media and fans. While his career has since taken its share of dips along with some notable highs, Webb said the attention, hopes and attendant pressure his performances produced were not too heavy or unfair a burden.

“No, I don’t think the expectations were too high,” Webb said of the interest he generated while a fresh-faced high schooler. “I mean, 3:53 was a big deal. Not just for a high school runner, but for the Mile in general then.”

With his place in US athletics history firmly etched, he ended his 2001 season on the track with a no-pressure appearance at the national championships. While he missed the qualifying standard for that year’s World Championships in Edmonton, the future of the next “Great American Miler” seemed brighter than ever.

But his road that lead to that breakout victory in Ostrava, and eventually to the Olympic Stadium in Athens last summer and perhaps onward to the world championships in Helsinki next summer, has been anything but smooth. But for the affable Webb, a rocky road suits him just fine. After all, he said, summing up his competitive philosophy, “If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be fun.”

 

Shortly after a successful freshman cross country season at the University of Michigan, his storybook tale ended and his troubles began. He finished a well-beaten fourth in the 1500 at the 2002 NCAA Championships, and, failing to meet his own high expectations in collegiate competition, he chose to leave Ann Arbor that Spring to pursue the sport professionally. It was a much-talked about and oft-criticized move at the time, but one that has been duplicated by many top young American collegians since. He returned to the familiar surroundings of his native Reston, Virginia and to coach Scott Raczko, who guided him through all but the first year of his stellar high school career. But his struggles didn’t disappear; both injury and illness would follow. He ran bests of just 3:47.35 and 3:58.84 in the 1500 and Mile in 2003, before undergoing surgery for a burst appendix in July. He didn’t race again until the following autumn, contesting a few low-key road race and cross country events.

Gradually he returned to form that winter, highlighted by a fourth place finish in the 12km race at the national cross country championships. He clocked a 13:46.31 personal best in the 5000 at the Penn Relays in April, but doubts nonetheless trailed Webb until his 17-day competitive stretch late last Spring. On 22 May, he lowered his personal best to 3:35.71 at the Home Depot Invitational in Carson, California, his first improvement in the 1500/Mile since high school, and perhaps just as significantly, his first major win and an Olympic ‘A’ qualifier. The momentum continued nine days later when he finished fourth at the FBK-Games in Hengelo, improving again to 3:33.70 in his first major international race. He then did a round of speed work, winning the 800 metre ‘B’ race in Seville in 1:46.53, another personal best, before his stunner in Ostrava.

“That was the biggest win of my career,” Webb said, reflecting back on his season. “It was my PR so it was a double bonus – running fast and winning. That’s what it’s all about.”

Choosing to end his mini-European tour on a high note, he passed on making his Golden League debut in Bergen, and headed back to the US where he followed up with wins at the Prefontaine Classic in 3:34.42 and the Olympic Trials in Sacramento in 3:36.13 to claim his first national title.

He returned to Europe to contest the Mile at London’s Crystal Palace where he finished fourth in 3:50.73, yet another personal best.

“Yeah, it’s still a personal best,” he said after the race, seemingly content while somewhat unimpressed. “Times are nice, but competition’s always the No. One goal. That’s half the battle. You just put yourself out there all the time, and you win some, lose some. I just didn’t quite have it today. But it’s a good tune up for the Olympic Games.”

Apparently though, it wasn’t good enough.

Running a self-described “stupid race,” Webb was a distant ninth in the second of three opening round heats in Athens, clocking 3:41.25, missing the cut off by just 11/100s of a second.

“That was definitely really hard to swallow,” Webb admitted. “To end that way was such a let down emotionally.”

Unable to remove himself from the tightly-knit pack, Webb found himself boxed in or running very wide on several occasions, while at the same time experiencing the physical brutality of international racing for the first time in his still-young career.

“It was worse than a football game out there,” he said. “I just got banged around. I was trying to stay to the outside and stay out of trouble and it just got me in trouble more.”

Once again, his image appeared in newspapers and website around the world. Only this time, dejected, his hands were covering his face.

“First of all, it was a really, really dumb race. I ran every race the same last year, running at the front or near the front. Except for the one in Athens.”

“Some of it was just plain bad luck,” he continued. “Everywhere I went in that race something bad happened. It was a matter of being at the wrong spot at the wrong time.  Sport can be that way sometime. It’s just one of those things that you have to move on from.”

He ended his season after his Athens disappointment, but looking back some months later, Webb now realizes that there were plenty of positives from his first international campaign.

“I did a great job on the first three-quarters of the summer,” he said, before breaking into laugher. “But the last quarter didn’t do so hot. But over the whole year, I felt that I put myself on the next level, jumping forward to the next level again. It was a lot to take in in the first year.”

Part of his first summer abroad was running with who he called “the big boys” for the first time.

“It’s a lot different running in Europe than it is in the US,” he said. “It’s so competitive, and I feel like I can’t have any expectations. You just have to go in. It sounds as if you don’t believe in yourself, but it’s so competitive. There are no guarantees in anything. It’s almost easier. You know you’re not expected to win every time. So you’re just like, ‘I’ll go, if I get fourth, that’s fine, if I get first, that’s cool too.”

Webb doesn’t foresee any major changes in his attitude and approach. After all, he doesn’t see any reasons to make any changes.

“Basically, I’m just running more workouts, better workouts, and experimenting with workouts. I just have to continue the same and more.”

When he’s not busy pounding 70 miles per week in training, he’s pursuing his economics degree at nearby George Mason University. To get his mind off of both, he plays his guitar. But athletics fans needn’t worry that he’ll trade in the world’s major athletics venues for a concert stage. “I only play alone, at home, when no one’s around.”

Webb knows that the expectations from fans and observers at home won’t go away, and again, doesn’t mind in the least.

“Some of the pressure’s gone away,” he said, “but the great thing about last year is that now it’s a different kind of pressure. There are new expectations. I finally moved on and it’s closer. It’s happening.” As opposed to the ‘Next Great Miler’ tag he’s been carrying, he said, “It’s right now. My accomplishments are more dynamic. And I don’t mind that kind of pressure. It’s easier when the pressure and expectations change.”

Thinking ahead to Helsinki, he’s partly basing his own expectations on his Athens experience.

“Well, hopefully to make it out of the first round,” he said of his most immediate goal next August, again laughing. “I have to take that one pretty seriously. I need to act like you’re supposed to win that race.”

On a more serious note, Webb added that all his training efforts now are firmly pointed to his three races in Helsinki.

“I feel good, everything’s gone pretty well,” Webb said, explaining his light fall and winter racing load. “I didn’t do any racing in the fall. I sort of just recharged and took my time coming back. I was pretty happy with the way training went and I’m really happy with my fitness.”

In the back of his mind though, expectations are far higher than advancing from the first round.

“I feel great about it, especially after going through what I went through last summer. It was an eye-opener. Now I know what to expect going into those races, and everything that goes with it.”