Friday, April 4, 2014

A brief look at the elite field in the GO! St. Louis half-marathon



The organizers of GO! St. Louis have again invited an elite field for the half-marathon, scheduled for Sunday as part of the family fitness weekend. Sunday's races also include an open half-marathon, marathon and marathon relay, which begin and end in downtown St. Louis. 

Given the personal bests of the runners, the course records of 1:03:13 and 1:12:22, set last year by Aaron Braun and Mattie Suver, respectively, could be in danger, especially if the ideal weather forecast comes to fruition. Here are capsules of the top runners:

Chipangama
MEN'S FIELD
Bib No. 1 - Jordan Chipangama (chip-un-GAH-muh): A native of Zambia, he represents Northern Arizona Elite. He has a personal best of 2:13 in the marathon and finished second in last year’s elite half in 1:03.22.

No. 2- Craig Curley: A resident of Tucson and a member of the Red House People Clan of the Navajo Nation. He has a personal best of 1:04.14 in the half-marathon and finished eighth here last year.

No. 4- Jacob Chemtai (CHEM-tay) . Born in Kenya, he set a personal best of 1:02:44 in a half-marathon last November in Monterey, Calif.

No. 5- Matt O'Connor: A native of St. Louis, he is a veteran of area races, including the GO! St. Louis Halloween 10K, where he has finished in the top 10.

No. 6- Julius Koskei: A native of Kenya, he set a person best of 1:01:17 in the half-marathon in 2004 and won the 2008 Frankfurt Marathon in 2:10 14. 

No. 10- Stephen Pifer : A state track and cross country champion at Edwardsville High, he went on to become an All-American at Colorado, and recently finished in the Top 10 at the U.S. 15K championships.

No. 11 Carlos Tujillo: A former member of the University of Oregon team, he has a personal best of 1:03:19 and represented the U.S. in the 2013 IAAF World Marathon Championships.

WOMEN HALF MARATHON ELITE DIVISION:

No. F1- Sarah Kiptoo: A native of Kenya, she trains in Santa Fe and finished third in last year’s GO! Half-marathon. Her personal best is 1:11:21.

No. F3- Kellyn Johnson: A member of Northern Arizona Elite, she finished fourth at the US Ten-mile championships, fifth in the U.S. Cross Country Club Championships and has a personal best of 1:12:27 in the half-marathon.

No. F4- Hannah Wanjiru: A native of Kenya, she finished 13th at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships and has a personal best of 1:12:52 in the half-marathon.

No. F5- Pasca Cheruiyot: A native of Kenya who ran at Missouri State and Florida State, she has a personal best in the marathon of 2:35.

No. F6- Doreen Kitaka: This native of Kenya runs for the Duma Club and has run 1:15:00 in the half-marathon and 2:30:00 in the marathon.

No. F7- Emma Kennan: Her personal best in the half-marathon is 1:19:38.

No. F8- Dana Kelly Herrick: A native of Iowa who represents Power Bar Elite, she qualified for and finished the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.

No. F10- Connie Teague: A resident of Kansas City, she finished third at Rock n Roll Arizona in 1:16:46. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Let the Games begin: SLUH grad Patrick Meek finishes 20th in 5,000

Two great reasons to get up early Saturday.

1. Sven Kramer and his Dutch counterparts swept the medals in the men's 5,000-meter event at the speedskating oval. The Netherlands' dominance isn't a surprise; it's expected. Kramer's victory was assumed; he has won every world cup event at the distance in the past two seasons and was the defending gold medalist.

But Kramer carries the weight of a nation. The Dutch are nutty about speed skating; they erupt in squeals for each lap of the 13-lap event when lap times are posted. They're hard-core, no one moreso than the King of the Netherlands, who showed up for Kramer's race with the Queen Consort in two.

Talk about Weight of a Nation. Kramer carried it well. No one could touch his winning time of 6 minutes, 10.76 seconds. Jan Blokhuijsen was almost five seconds slower. Kramer took the first of what is expected to be two golds. The second proved his stumbling block four years ago in Vancouver, literally, when he was disqualified in the event for hitting a lane cone. Kramer threw a large hissy on the ice, for which Dutch sport writers can't seem to forgive him.

2. SLUH grad Patrick Meek finished 20th in 6:32.94. He won't be happy. The guy swears he has no talent but works harder than anyone else. He's worked 10 years, put his life on hold for a decade, for this one moment.

As former Blues coach Brian Sutter said, though, hard work is a skill. Too few of us master it. In an interview with KSDK, Meek gave kudos to SLUH for work ethic and setting the bar high.

Here's hoping any disappointment will be temporary. Soak it in, man. You are forever an Olympian.

Rings and things: 

  • The figure skating JV squad of announcers -- Rookies Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir and the smooth Terry Gannon -- are WAY more smart, sophisticated and informative than the varsity squad of Tom Hammond, Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic. Weir referred to skaters as Black Swans, out for themselves. Catch the JV on NBCSN.
  • Like a bad penny, 900-year-old Bode Miller might be back again. He had the fastest run on the final day of practice on the downhill run. A strong performance by the 36-year-old Ugly American would give NBC a ratings card to play that they thought lost on Sunday because Shaun White pulled out of snowboard slopestyle. 
  • Take a look at the events that NBC features on its website: Figure Skating, Alpine Skiing, Snowboard, Freestyle Skiing and Hockey. The network is just playing the odds: Figs always draw good ratings, hockey is one of NBC's bread-and-butter sports; the others are disciplines in which the U.S. is likely to medal. What happened to Bobsled, Ski jumping and Speedskating? Guess they're sports for old fogeys, like me. 
And old-school guys like Pat Meek.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

St. Louisan Matt Plummer turns the page on Olympic dream unfulfilled



The flip side to the joy experienced by St. Louis University High grad Pat Meek is as close as our own backyard. While Meek is packing his bags to compete in the 5,000 meters in long track speedskating in Sochi, St. Louis native Matt Plummer is packing his bags to head home.

Plummer, a graduate of Chaminade, came up short for the second time in his attempt to qualify for the Olympics. Plummer is a sprinter on the long track and finished sixth in the 500 meters, one place shy of qualifying. Amy Donaldson of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City profiled the end of Plummer's career in a poignant story that's a must read for anyone who knew him. Or didn't. The media focuses at this time in the Olympic cycle on the few who advance their dreams. Far more competitors decide after an Olympic Trial to say goodbye to their childhood dreams.

Here's the short version of Matt's story: He began his skating career here, training in short track with the coaches who have launched the careers of more than a dozen Olympians. After graduating from Chaminade in 2006, Plummer moved to Salt Lake City to follow his dreams. He made the junior team in short order and seemed on target to make an Olympic team. But he just missed in 2010, skating the best of his life, and again this year. The difference this time around is that he thought he could have skated better.

By the time the next Olympics rolls around, Plummer will be 30, past the prime of  skaters.

He provided one terrific moment, which captures his joy, passion and love of skating in a personal way. Back in 2009, Plummer set the world record for skating 500 meters backwards. We thought it was the perfect time to share the link, as a fitting look back and salute to Plummer for following his dream.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Former UHigh Guy Pat Meek qualifies for Sochi in speedskating



Here's something for the guys at St. Louis University High to crow about: One of their own is an Olympian.
Patrick Meek, class of 2004, qualified for the U.S. speedskating team that will travel to Sochi by finishing third in the 5,000 meters on Friday in Salt Lake City.

Though he's a native of Chicago and a bit of a Blackhawks fan, Meek has looked back fondly on his time at the UHigh, when he was a member of the cross country team. Following graduation, he moved to Salt Lake City, where he has spent almost a decade devoting himself to his dream. Pat's the national champion at 25K and 50K. Sadly for him, those are not Olympic distances.

The road has been tough. Long track speedskating -- the old-school style on a huge oval with ice specially frozen to maximize the effort from long, graceful strides -- isn't a glamour sport. It's sort of like distance running in that respect. Pat has worked hard to wrangle sponsors and fund his dream. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Team USA.org:

"For Torino, I was so young. I set a PR in the 10K at trials. I thought: Oh, this is awesome, great race, done, sweet. I wasn’t so emotionally invested. I really thought Vancouver was my opportunity to make the team. [At the trials for Vancouver,] I went faster than I’d ever gone before. I just wasn’t fast enough that day. You want to be happy — and people are telling you to be happy — but you set this very binary goal for yourself: either you make the team or you don’t. At that moment, I couldn't get past the fact that I didn’t make the Olympic team. Sitting on the couch watching the Opening Ceremony, really hoping you were going to be there with those same people, was not a fun experience. It was tough watching the event you’d committed your life to."

His commitment yielded sweet fruit Friday, when he finished third in a time of 6 minutes, 27.9 seconds, trailing winner Jonathan Kuck and 17-year-old Emery Lehman. In true Jr. Bill-Latin student fashion, his mantra in qualifying: Audentis fortuna juvat: Fortune favors the bold.

Magistra should be smiling.

Meek raced in a heat with Kuck, the nation's best shot at a medal in the distance events. The superior competition helped Meek set a pace that almost ensured that he would qualify. He stretches to 12 the streak of Olympics in which a St. Louis skater has competed.

Meek is the first of many locals who could qualify for Sochi, which could make this Olympiad  the biggest ever for St. Louis athletes. Joining Meek could be goalie Ben Bishop and a slew of Blues: David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jay Bouewmeester, Alex Pietroangelo, Jaroslav Halak, Roman Polack, Vladi Sobotka, Vladi Tarasenko, Alexander Steen.

Can't wait.

As your St. Louis hockey brethren would say, Way to go, Meeker.



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fun and games and serious running combine at GO! Halloween event



Given the inordinate number of costumed runners in the Great GO! St. Louis Great Halloween 10K race, it's easy to assume that all who gather at Soldier's Memorial on October 13 will be there for fun and games. For some of the competitors, though, this is serious stuff. The race, the largest 10K in Missouri, has attracted an elite field as well as the goblins, fairy princesses and refugees from ComicCon and the Renaissance fair.

Among the elite runners scheduled to compete in the 10K are three members of Team RunFan, coached by former St. Louisan Ben Rosario:

  • Jordan Chipangama, 25, who finished second in the 2013 GO! St. Louis Half Marathon, with a time of 1:03:22.
  • Matt Llano, who finished sixth at the GO! half, seventh in the U.S. 20K championships and and has a PR of 28:43 in the 10K. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Put this guy on your Olympic radar: SLUH grad Pat Meek



Photo courtesy of patrickmeek.com
We're long overdue for giving a shoutout to Patrick Meek. A 2004 graduate of St. Louis University High, Pat ran cross country for the local powerhouse. But his running was a means to an end. Pat was a skater. A speedskater. He still is.

Pat moved to Park City, Utah, the mecca for longtrack speedskating in the United States, hoping to qualify for the Olympic team. He made his first national team in 2005 but was a bit young in 2006 and just missed in 2010.

He has served as an eloquent spokesman for GoFundMe, a group of athletes using crowd funding to defray their expenses as they train. He's also proud of his 28-inch circumference thighs. Mine are almost that big. I have no reason to be proud.

This year could be his time. He finished third the past two years in the U.S. Allround Championships and was the U.S. marathon champion earlier this year in both the 25K and 50K distances. The longest Olympic distance is just 10K. Just 10K.

Pat just finished the Olympic media summit, a one-stop shop where Olympic hopefuls meet the press. He has a few more pressing engagements on his calendar, though. First comes the World Cup single-distance trials later this month. Four World Cup events serve as warm-ups to the U.S. Olympic Trials at the end of December.

The best way to stay up-to-date? The U.S. Speedskating site and USOC pressbox are good places to start. But Pat is media savvy. He's appropriately terse on twitter and poetically introspective on his web site. 

His composition instructors on Oakland Avenue should be proud.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Tickets are on sale for Musial Awards


The news that tickets are on sale for the Musial Awards should have made me happy. For as little as $35, you can be an eye witness to the retelling of stories of unselfish acts of sportsmanship that honor the memory of their namesake. All the honorees November 9 at the Peabody Opera House will display the class and character of Stan Musial, and the organizers at the St. Louis Sports Commission made a smart move in rebranding the night formerly known as the National Sportsmanship Awards.

Instead, selfishly, I'm a little wistful, bordering on melancholy. In years past, the days leading up to the evening gave me a chance to write the most satisfying stories of my career. Talented, unselfish athletes put personal glory aside to help a rival. In each case, the honoree was mystified by the adulation. Each said he/she was just doing what was right.

The simplicity in that truth always moved me to tears and inspired to find the best inside me as a writer.