Thursday, April 25, 2013

St. Louis is home to the Sports Commission of the Year

How many times can you work the phrase "sports commission" into one sentence? Let's see:

Frank Viverito, Marc Schreiber and the rest of the lean, mean crew at the St. Louis Sports Commission have been named Sports Commission of the Year by the National Association of Sports Commissions at a luncheon today in Louisville, Ky.

The sports commission was up against some tough competition from such cities as Cleveland, Columbus, Richmond, Va., and San Jose. The award was the third for the sports commission, after winning in 2002 and 2005.

Among the sports commission's achievements last year:

Staging the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.
Staging the USA Gymnastics Championships.
Partnering with St. Louis University to host the NCAA Division I men's basketball Midwest regional.
Organizing the inaugural Freedom 4-miler.

The award is the second of what could be a series of accolades for the sports commission. Earlier this year, the commission earned legislative approval for a tax credit for amateur sporting events, which should aid in future bids. St. Louis is one of three finalists to host the 2016 U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials; the announcement is expected April 27. It also is bidding for the 2017 SEC men's basketball championships.

So, safe to say that the sports commission won't rest on its laurels. It also is working with its partners on events that it had been awarded previously: the 2014 NCAA Tournament second- and third-round games, a celebration of the Missouri Valley Conference's 25 years in St. Louis and the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

GO! makes a foray into the crowded field of fall half-marathons

A crowded field got a little more jammed when GO! St. Louis announced the addition of a half-marathon to its Halloween races, set for October 13. The event also will include a 5K, 10K and fun run and has been dubbed the The Great GO! St. Louis Halloween Race.

The fall running scene has changed dramatically from three years ago, when area distance runners chose between the Lewis & Clark marathon and half in September/October and the St. Louis Track Club’s half, scheduled for the first Sunday in November.

At that time ,Lewis & Clark's organizers, Fleet Feet St. Louis, joined forces with Rock n Roll to bring the popular series here, dissolving an event that was held in St. Charles and staging the bigger event in downtown St. Louis. In one fell swoop, the number of runners competing in fall halves jumped from about 7,000 to more than 18,000.

Two years ago, Big River partnered with the city of St. Charles to launch the MO Cowbell half. Now, GO! joins the fun.

So, here’s the schedule of fall half-marathons:

Oct. 6: MO Cowbell
Oct. 13: Great GO! Halloween Race
Oct. 27: Rock 'n' Roll
Nov. 3: Track Club
You’d think that runners would scream “Enough already!”  

But maybe GO! is onto something.


Friday, April 19, 2013

This year's Festival of Miles to benefit Brad Eastman

Running fast and for a cause: the missions combine annually at the Festival of Miles, set for May 30 at St. Louis University High School.

Brad Eastman helps members of Girls on the Run.
Since its beginning in 2008, the event's mission has been two-fold: gather the fastest milers at the youth, high school, college and national levels, and let them duke it out at a distance once thought extinct. The races have brought out the best in runners, including nine of sub-4-minute performances.

Disclaimer: The event got us in a little hot water that first year, when I wrote a story about how the organizers hoped to be the first to stage a race in Missouri that included a sub-4-minute mile. Neither my research nor the efforts of organizer Ben Rosario turned up any information -- until after the meet, when we found this article in the Sports Illustrated vault about a meet in 1963. I wrote a long but loving feature for the following week that doubled as a correction.

The other mission is to provide assistance for runners in need.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thank you, #runforboston, for returning a small piece of my soul

The sense of futility following an inexplicable horror like the bombing at the Boston Marthon tends to leave For further proof, read my most recent post. 
me numb, searching for answers.

Without answers, I tend to stand still: Hopeless, but most of all useless.

Thank goodness, the impetus to move arrived via, of all things, twitter. #runforboston went viral Tuesday morning.

To a nonrunner, the idea must seem absurd. Will a run bring back the dead or the legs of an amputee? No. The message was for the inner circle, the runners, who lost a little piece of our soul yesterday.

So, I do something. I run. I run in the rain.

Monday, April 15, 2013

In shock following the Boston Marathon

Turned on the TV. Saw footage of explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, then overhead shots of huge patches of red on abandoned sidewalks. Felt compelled to write something.

But what?

It's too early to know how many people have been killed, injured, maimed, as a result of the explosions in Boston. The video shows runners being downed in the street, panic. Feels like the fog of war, though.

Kind of trite to say, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston." The event attracts runners from around the world. Who's to say at this point where the injured are from? Too many events recently, be it natural or man-made disasters, have elicited that response. The words sound hollow.

St. Louis among three finalists to host 2016 Olympic Swimming Trials


The word from USA Swimming, via its twitter account, seems encouraging:

"We're down to 3 cities in the hunt to host #Trials2016-Omaha, San Antonio & St. Louis. Host announcement slated for April 27..who's ready?"

This means that USA Swimming has eliminated Indianapolis, Greensboro, N.C. and Jacksonville, Fla. and could be viewed as great news for St. Louis. Omaha served as host in 2008 and 2012 and staged the event at the CenturyLink Center. San Antonio was the runner-up each time and like St. Louis, proposes staging the event at its massive indoor complex known as the Alamodome. Sponsored by the St. Louis Sports Commission, the event here would be held at the Edward Jones Dome, which is large enough to house the pair of pools necessary for the event.

The swimming trials is one of three considered a crown jewel, the others being gymnastics and track and field. NBC commits more than a week of live coverage from the venue, so the nation gets an eyeful of St. Louis while learning a little about the athletes who will be expected to dominate at the pool in previous Olympiads.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sarah Haskins' strong sense of family leads her home

Courtesy of sarahhaskins.com
One of our favorite St. Louis Olympians is back in town. Triathlete Sarah Haskins is stepping back from competition this year for good reason: she and husband Nate Kortuem are expecting their first child in July.

Belated congrats to the Parkway South grad, on the new addition and so much more. Sarah seems pretty happy to sport her round physique on twitter and to share her domestic comings and goings. Check out the latest photos from a Storage Wars homage going on at her father's business, Haskins Storage. It's kind of a hoot.

Sarah always struck me as even keel. She was deep-down proud to be one of only three U.S. women competing in triathlon at the 2008 Games in Beijing, and her 11th-place finish was encouraging. She really showed her class last year, when she barely missed qualifying for London. She entered non-drafting eligible events and blew away the competition  by finishing first in four consecutive Toyota Cup races.

Here's an example of steady Sarah from her blog:

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kiprotich smashes GO! marathon mark, Ray wins women's race

No one celebrated victory better than Autumn Ray, who set a PR of 2:51:28 in the women's marathon,the fifth victory of her career at the distance. Kathleen Nelson photo
The elite runners in the half-marathon field obliterated the course records. Equally impressive, though, was the performance of Geoffrey Kiprotich, who set a record of 2:20:00 in winning the marathon. Kiprotich, a native of Kenya who lives in Toledo, Ohio, took almost four minutes off Zac Freudenburg's 2:23:37, set in 2009.

Fellow Kenyan Mark Chepses was second in 2:20:49, with 2010 half winner Mario Macias in third at 2:21:59. As in the half, a critical mass of talented runners helped each to improve his performance.

Elite field shatters records in GO! St. Louis half-marathon

Aaron Braun crosses the finishing line of the GO! St. Louis half-marathon
 in record time, 1:03:13. Kathleen Nelson photo
Just how good was the field for the GO! St. Louis half-marathon invitational? Four men and five women improved on the course records of 1:05:01 and 1:14:13, respectively.

Leading the way was Aaron Braun, who set the new men's standard at 1:03:13. Jordan Chipangama was second at 1:03:22, followed by 2011 half winner Josphat Boit in 1:03:52.

"I started out a little slower than I thought I would," said Braun, who trains in Flagstaff, Ariz. "I think we all thought the pace was slow. After five or six miles, it was down to four or five of us."

But Braun didn't make the decisive move until the 12th of 13.1 miles. "I tried to stay up front and keep an honest pace," he said. "This is a tough course. The weather was perfect, but the hills were enough to slow you down. "

Saturday, April 6, 2013

O'Connor, Beckman win 5K, first of GO! St. Louis events

Sean O'Connor breaks the tape as he first finisher in the GO! St. Louis 5K April 6 in Forest Park. Kathleen Nelson photo.
Sean O'Connor just wanted to run a good 5K. He wasn't thinking about running the best 5K. But that's what he did, beating the field April 6 in the GO! St. Louis 5K, the first of seven events of GO's marathon and family fitness weekend.

O'Connor finished in 16 minutes 56 seconds, ahead of David Nischwitz in 17:12 and Ed Murray in 17:46.

"I didn't really know what to expect," said O'Connor, a math teach at Lafayette High School. "I was by myself after about the first half-mile, but I didn't know if I could hold on."

O'Connor said he wasn't training for a longer race, but "just trying to run a few good 5Ks."

Friday, April 5, 2013

A little soul-searching after Armstrong's latest ban


Discovery riders at the Tour of Missouri included George Hincapie, in yellow, and Levi Leipheimer, just behind him. Both confessed to doping in the early 2000s and had served six-month bans.
So, Lance Armstrong was banned from swimming in an old guy’s event. Armstrong had planned to compete in the 500, 1,000 and 1,650-yard events at the Masters South Central Zone Swimming Championships, until the International Swimming Federation, known by the acronym FINA, put the kibosh on his plans, saying he was ineligible to compete in events sanctioned by the world governing body.

We’re not going to pile on here about how the mighty have fallen or say that Lance is getting what he deserves, being banned from an event a couple steps removed from the Senior Olympics. Instead, I want to use the news as time for a little soul-searching of my own.
I got interested in cycling in the mid-1980s, when I eagerly waited for the 15 minutes of CBS Sunday Sports Spectacular, when Phil Liggett would provide an update each Sunday in July on the Tour de France. Greg Lemond’s exploits were the first to catch my eye, but I’d never strayed far, through the reigns of Hinault, Lemond and Miguel Indurain. When Armstrong burst onto the scene, I took special interest because one of his trusted lieutenants was a St. Louisan, Kevin Livingston. He gave me the excuse I needed to convince the sports editors at the Post-Dispatch to produce a guide to the Tour.

It has run every year since 1998, without fail, despite all the turmoil, first from the Festina Affair, through the Lance era and until last year. It was easy to sell editors and readers alike on the beauty of the setting, the quirkiness of the event’s history and the hell that riders were willing to put their bodies through: distractions from the ugliness going on behind the team bus.
I was at the Tour in 2006. I saw Floyd Landis’ tongue hanging out when he passed my husband, son and I on the Col de Croix de Fer on a Wednesday, when he lost 10 minutes  and the yellow jersey. The next day, he rode away from everyone on an escapade that seemed to be One for the Ages. It was, sadly, all too representative of the era. When the charges originally surfaced, I wrote a column, begging Floyd to man up. The best thing to do, I advocated, was to stand up and say, “Yep. I did it. I’m willing to pay the price. But forgive me and let me come back.”
But being honest is hard, even for a writer charged with adhering to the truth.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

GO! St. Louis: 25,000 strong and ever-evolving

Yesterday, or so it seems,  I ventured out of my front door before sunrise, already hopped up on caffeine, hoping to have the energy to cover my first race. In reality, it was October 2000, and the race was known as the Spirit of St. Louis Marathon. Operating out of a spare bedroom, Nancy Lieberman managed to attract about 2,500 to race through downtown, Forest Park, Clayton and University City.

Today, the annual race-week press release crossed my desk. The organizers are expecting 25,000. That's a ten-fold increase since the first race. And, no. Nancy no longer works out of her spare bedroom. Spirit has morphed into GO! St. Louis. One race has expanded to seven. Race day has expanded to a year-round mission of fitness.

Despite the worst economic downturn in 70 years, despite competition from a national organization that organizes marathons around the world, GO! continues to evolve and grow.

Lieberman & Co. have kept the race fresh and alive by finding new wrinkles nearly each year. The group hosted the 2003 U.S. women's marathon championships and 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials. They added a fledgling half-marathon in 2003 that will draw more than 10,000 this year. The Read, Right and Run Marathon will serve students from more than 250 schools. Runners from ages six months to 100 years will participate in events on Family Day, April 6, that range from a diaper dash to a Mature Mile. The marathon relay, a first in 2005, will sell out once again, even though the field has expanded to include 600 teams of four runners.

This year, GO! took a leap of faith by offering the fourth-largest prize purse in the nation at the half-marathon distance. The money attracted national and international up-and-comers, further enhancing the event's reputation nationally.

The organizers have managed to do this while facing stiff competition from the Competitor Group, which brought the Rock 'n' Roll marathon franchise to St. Louis in the fall of 2011. The inaugural Rock 'n' Roll event here attracted almost 18,000 finishers but shrank to 11,000 in just its second go-around. GO! held nearly steady over all its events.

We'd ask the lean and mean staff to take a bow, but they're all a little busy right now, setting up the Expo at Chaifetz Arena. Then, they'll have to get ready for the Family Events on Saturday in Forest Park on Saturday: a 5K, the conclusion of Read, Right and Run marathon, fun runs and Mature Mile. Working on no sleep, they'll shift downtown for Sunday's marathon, half-marathon and sold-out marathon relay. All you tardy Arties can thank them when you register at the Expo. The rest of us can give them a pat on the back at the finishing lines Saturday and Sunday.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Spartacus outduels Sagan for his second win in Flanders


So, how did Fabian Cancellara get the best of Peter Sagan for the victory March 31 in the Tour of Flanders? He used Sagan's strength against him.

Of the two, Sagan is considered the better climber. So, many of the experts predicted that if the pair found themselves among the leaders on the final ascent of the final hill, the Paterberg, Sagan would put his skills to use.

The scenario unfolded just like that. The pair had pulled away, along with Jurgen Roelandts, just before the final ascent of the Paterberg, 14 kilometers from the end. Cancellara was at the front of the trio. He accelerated slightly and dropped Roelandts, who eventually finished third. The short, steep wall should have favored Sagan, who has a better quick burst than Cancellara. But the daylong grind had sapped Sagan just enough.