Sunday, April 2, 2017

Daegu stories, tributes, thoughts

The Daegu experience was definitely 'one for the ages'.  My first trip to East Asia.   My first World indoor meet, my first and (may very well be) my only World Championship, my fastest 400m in 3 yrs, my 2nd fastest indoor 200m, and two #2 World rankings to finish my '17 season.   It was also nice to have run a faster 400m than any M55 in Perth, and do it indoors.   A little redemption for the 'face plant' I suffered in the World 400m Final in '16.

I know how tenuous the level of fitness is in order to run sprint races at this level, especially 3 rounds of races.  You can be in great shape, but if you just slightly injured a ham, a knee ... anything that causes damage and pain, that's it, you're likely out of contention.  That point hit home yesterday for me as I tweeked my ham in warmups to run a 200m race.

Waiting for the final of the 200m, I watched Ben in the M60 Final, the favorite to win both the M60 200m and 400m.  It seemed like it was his year.  Ben had pretty much stopped running 200s because of hamstring issues, and I remember him collapsing in pain after winning the 200m at my first Nationals in '11.  He was a bit worried about it but looked fine in the prelims, was the fastest qualifier. In the final, he looked good up until the final turn where he grabbed his ham, for a moment, he bared down and tried to continue but it was no use, his ham came undone and he limped to the finish.  I felt so bad for him.  This not only cost him a 200 medal, but a certain 400 win - his strongest event.  I had to erase the thought of possible injury from my mind as I took the track in the 200m final.  Afterward, I shook his hand and gave my condolences.  Ben has been doing masters track for 30 yrs and I know he'll be back.

When I arrived in the cramped warmup room for the first time, Rudy from Australia gave me a nice orientation, where everything was, etc.  I got a pic with him and Toru.  I knew he wasn't 100%, if he was, he surely would have won the 60m, he medaled anyway.   He told me after the 200m prelim he had a knee issue.  Nevertheless, he gutted out a run in the 200m semis and then retired from the meet.  He sent me a message of good luck was there to support me in the 200m final, I thought I heard him yelling 'go Bill go!' on that recording of the race by Duncan.  I consider him a great sprinter.  He kicked my butt in Perth.  A helluva nice guy and great colleague.  Thanks bro and heal up.

Stephen, a Brit now living and competing for the USA is a sprinting aficionado, runs the FB site, Sprinting and Science.  I enjoyed hanging with him and having my only real dinner in Daegu at his hotel on Sat. night.  You can hear his super loud "Go Bill" at the start of my 200m final.   He earned a Bronze medal with the M55 4x200m relay team.  He said it was a highlight of his athletic career.  Great guy, happy to see him win a medal.  Definitely the team USA official cheerleader.  He joined me in the medal ceremonies belting out our national anthem.  Fun times.

Hard to imagine any of this without sharing with my Dad from afar who watched all or most of my races at odd times streaming live from Korea.  He was in contact with me the whole time and was happy to have his support.  He sent me videos via messenger of my races.  Happy to have brought home some bragging rights for him.

Just after I got to the venue for my 400m final, a harrowing experience (see below), I got a text from longtime friend Joe who had just been through a very difficult life saving and life changing surgery.  I'd been thinking about him recently, how difficult of a time he's had, and how he doesn't deserve this with the healthy lifestyle he's led.  He gave me a note to 'kick ass' before I signed off to start my warmups.  Heal fast man.

The Races

200m Final
I didn't want this this to be like Lyon where I ran faster in the prelims (25.04) than the final (25.08) ... and was happy to have progressed a little faster each race, all solid times... 25.05, 24.86, and 24.82.    Shane looked really strong in the semi, ran an Irish M55 National 200m indoor record (25.29), just 0.03 off his outdoor record.  I tied my second fastest indoor 200m in that race (24.86).    I really wanted a PR in the final but came up a bit short (0.17).  With Don, the World #1 not coming to Daegu, Rob (60m champ) getting DQ'd for a lane violation in the prelims,  Ray and Toru not looking competitive in the prelims, and Rudy getting injured ... I knew it was my Final to lose.  I had lane 5, a good lane, with Neil just to my outside.  I got a decent start and made up the stagger on Neil almost immediately, before entering the back straight.  I relaxed and hit the turn in the lead.  At the apex of the bank, I put the hammer down and took a 6 meter lead into the final straight.  I tightened slightly at the end but still won by a healthy 0.62.   I wish Don had come since I definitely had improved my speed since Nationals and could have given him a race.  I ran almost a half second faster in the World Final than I did in the Nationals Final.   Whatever, as James told me... 'when you win a World Championship, people will remember the win, not who was or wasn't there.'

400m prelim
Waiting for my prelim, I watched Benoit cruise to an easy win in 57.9, saving energy and looking totally smooth.  I was going to do the same but I wanted a faster time so I'd get lane 5.   Taking a large lead at the break, I relaxed on the last turn, looking around.  Probably relaxed too much.  I ran a 58, trying to stay as relaxed as possible and save myself for the final the next morning, but I finished 2nd seed, just behind Benoit.  Won my heat easily, didn't break a sweat.   Here's a professional photo from Rob, taken while leading the 400m prelims.  With so many Koreans DNS, we rolled to a final the next day, thankfully.

loose and smooth
400m Final
The back story to this day is that I really thought I might miss this race.  The previous day the usual highway exit was closed for the racewalk so, no big deal, I got to the stadium from the next exit.   The morning of the 400m Final, it was early and I left at 8am for the 10:04am race.  It is a 20 min drive to the track.   This day ... both exits that serve the area were blocked for the marathon.  I had to drive to a baseball stadium almost 3 miles away to park.  I was freaking out.  By this time it was 8:35 and I thought I might have to walk 45 min to the track.  I saw a Korean who spoke English and he advised me to take the shuttle bus from the train stop.  Thankfully, I go on one that was just leaving.  Even this bus dropped us off a mile from the track.  A good samaritan gave us a ride in his car so I only had to walk a half mile to the track.   Got there in plenty of time, about 9:00am.

This, my 5th race of the meet, I really was saving my energy.  When we were released onto the track, my fellow competitors ran or jogged the 60m to the blocks.  I trotted and walked half the way, arriving last.  I set my blocks and relaxed, just stepped out, not even a practice start.  I knew I'd be running blind out in lane 6 and I had to win the break if I had any chance against Benoit.  I got out fast and felt smooth.  I was comfortably ahead at the break and crossed the 200m mark in about 25.5, at least, might have been faster ... a time that would have medaled in the 200m.   Going down the back stretch I glanced up at the giant video screen and was surprised to see so much space between me and Benoit, I had a lead of several meters with about 130m to go.  But... I knew he'd be coming, and I knew it from the sound of the crowd.  I swung a bit wide on the turn and he caught me as we entered the home stretch.  He powered ahead by 5 meters and I finished as strong as I could, not rigging up, but just fatigued.  Benoit and I hugged and waited for our times on the scoreboard.  He ran a PR of 54.39.  It wasn't as if I folded, it was my fastest 400m in 3 yrs, my third fastest time ever, fastest on a 200m oval.   It was definitely a peak performance despite a risky maneuver ... to go out so fast.  The M55 200m final proved to be a 2 man race with a separate race for Bronze, which was won in 58.74 by a Roberto from Spain.   Benoit set a French National Record for his race and just missed a European Record by 0.20.  He suggested that my race tactic of swinging  a bit wide on the final turn, a standard race move in the indoor 400m, cost him the record.  Probably did.  Oh well.  Benoit is an amazing athlete and a fellow Music Professor (Trumpet).  He has kids that are also musicians.  He is built really different from me, taller, lean, thin calves and ankles, long legs, small butt.  Definitely like an 800m guy.  We discussed how music and athletics have many parallels.

4 x 200m relay
Naturally I wanted to run with the same M50 team that won Gold in the Perth 4x100m.  Initially, Phil had put me on the team but moved Clinton down to M45.  That was not what I wanted to see.  Then, a revised list came out where I was moved all the way down 2 age groups to M45.  I was a bit pissed. I thought with Marcus, Clinton, Robert and me, we might even have a shot at a record.  It seemed to me that Phil had buckled to some bitching and kept the M50 guys together.   Essentially, putting a strong M50 team together at the expense of M55 and M45.  And why move Clinton down?  He wasn't having a great meet.  Anyway, we front loaded our team.  Calvin had studied it and thought we could get a medal.   I drew lead off leg and was running against Lopez, the world M45 200m champion who ran 23.17, and handing off to our fastest guy, John.  As I was getting in the blocks, I was so distracted by what I saw that I went to the wrong lane.  The M50 team had new elite matching black team USA uniforms that no one else had.  This was predetermined.  No doubt by Robert, a big USATF guy, got these uniforms ahead of time and predetermined the relay team.  They even all had matching medal stand attire for the photos.  Didn't matter what Phil said, I wasn't going to be on the team.  There certainly was one guy on that team I was faster than, and they should've known it.  I told Clinton, "I wish I was running with you guys."  He said, "I wish you were too."  He sounded totally sincere.   For a minute, I thought they had set a record, but then remembered that they're M50, not M55.   Anyway, happy they won, and they did easily.  No big deal, but my first exposure to Team USA politics.

I got off ok but botched the handoff to John as his hand was moving so much, he reached around behind his back with his right hand to get the baton.  I think I held my own, he said "I held serve" against the M45 guys.  We were in 4th place and that's the way we finished, except Japan got DQd and we were promoted to Bronze.  Happy for John and Calvin to go home with a medal.

It was a great meet, happy to have won and run good times.  Even if I didn't win, I definitely 'brought it' to Korea, my 'A game.'  The amount of work I did between Nationals and Korea was about unprecedented in my training career.  No wonder my feet were so sore after my races.  It reminds me of how high a level I had attained within myself, with my training, lifestyle, diet, etc... taking center stage during those last few weeks before the event and even so, still thinking, 'have I done enough?'   I think I did.  Definitely hard to maintain this level.   Happy to have brought home 2 individual medals, most for team USA in M55.  It was definitely an experience of a lifetime.

May update this post in the future... but that's all for now.

Playing 'the Star Spangled Banner' for me

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, personal and analytical description of the meet. Enjoy your success, Bill. You have obviously worked hard for it and you deserve every bit of it! Well done!