It’s the Prefontaine Classic –Be Bold!
“Do you have a pass for Jack Welch?”
The young lady on the end of table looked up at Jack, but a voice interrupts before she can answer.
“The Jack Welch?”
It was Howard, one of the media/public relations men for the meet and, as it turned out, Jack’s old editor from the days where he filed monthly articles for Track and Field News. Years out the business, his name still gets recognized. That didn’t make him the news today, though.
Nor was it Tom Jordan’s day to shine. He quickly introduced the media to the athletes on the stage and mentioned that the IAAF had sent a list of questions for the athletes before they disperses to zones for easy access to the media. Jenny Simpson was on the stage, as was Sanya Richards-Ross, French pole vaulter Valentin Lavillenie sporting a bandage on his right bicep, and sprinter Justin Gatlin.
The questions were not really unusual. For Lavillenie, how was his arm and Jordan joking that it was every event organizers nightmare to have injuries to athletes just before the meet.
Richards-Ross, who made her first appearance in 2002 as a high school athlete, was asked of her best memory of that meet. She was smooth and gracious in her answer, before revealing that her father record the race, just as he had all the others, but he might have been more nervous that she was, and the video bounced so badly that it was virtually unwatchable. She also talked of the history of Hayward Field and the nerves as maybe not belonging – yet – on the same track with the pros. The decade plus since then suggests she shouldn’t have worried.
Gatlin commented on his desire to give the fans a great race and a couple of others made the same safe type of comment.
Four of them were asked to make some sort of prediction. None did, though Jenny Simpson said something really interesting when Tom Jordan pointed out that she was .1 seconds off the American record (still!) held by Mary Decker. The question was open-ended about the record. Simpson acknowledged that she was close but, after spending a year chasing a number, “wanted to get back to winning races.”
Given this is the Prefontaine Classic, the origins of which are embedded into the DNA of the sport’s most iconic figure and an act of defiance against the existing AAU structure of the time, I thought most of the answers represented the best of non-committal sports-speak. The age of brazen predictions, like those from Henry Rono when he owned track and field or Pre who turned every race into a test of wills, seem gone. Instead, we get platitudes about giving the fans a good show, or it’s early in the season so we’re still building, or I’m just going out to do my best. I don’t doubt their sincerity—I think they really mean those things.
It’s what they’re not saying. Jenny Simpson hinted at it. She wants to win. And I’m betting that she wants that record so bad she can taste it. In the corporate culture that has taken hold of racing though, making bold predictions that might lead to embarrassment are verboten.
Pre would have made a prediction and told any stuffed shirts that objected what they might conceivably do with themselves. Pre understood all about blood, guts, and glory at a basic level. He’d speak the words, and then live up to them with every bit of heart he had—or blow up trying.
Paul Duffau writes novels about running and works with junior high cross country runners part-time. His first novel, Finishing Kick, was recognized by Running Times in their Summer Reading list July, 2014. His newest novel, a high-octane adventure set in the mountains of Montana, is Trail of Second Chances. He blogs on the running life, running books, and interviews people that he finds interesting at www.paulduffau.com .