The Gossip Trail: June 1, 2003

By David Yon
Desire, courage and class. She has 43 career victories and more than $11.7 million in LPGA tournament winnings, dominating women's golf more completely than Tiger Woods has controlled the men's tour. Annika Sorenstam could have coasted, but instead she wanted a new challenge and for that more than anything else I would untie my running shoes in salute. Sorenstam, a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame, decided to accept an invitation to play the men's tour at the Colonial Tournament a couple weeks ago. Running, at least on the local level, prepares you for the idea that men and women can compete on the same field, at the same time. Sometimes the guys can't keep up with the girls as we have seen so often in GWTC races where women have won the overall titles more than just a few token times. I certainly know the pain of doing my best to keep up with female companions both during races and on training runs. And then there are those that might make the point that I am nothing more than a "Sally" as they buzz by at warp speed explaining that I will never be able to keep up if I don't train harder.

So it was not so much that Sorenstam competed in the MPGA tournament that sent a tingle of good feeling running through my body, so much as it was her willingness to step outside her bounds of comfort and take on the challenge, not so much because she was a woman, as because she was an athlete in search of a new challenge. From my vantage point several states away, it seemed to me she was more interested in testing herself, than in breaking any lines or challenging any taboos. Not that those are not admirable goals in themselves, but there is something special about an athlete, at the top of their game, that is willing to step onto a new field of challenge and lay it on the line. Maybe Michael Jordon was simply delusional when he thought the best basketball player in the world could play baseball in the major leagues, but he was not afraid to find out and I have always admired him for that. I hope Annika tries it again and I bet the time will come when a woman plays regularly from the men's tees. There was a firestorm of media coverage in this country and in Sweden where she is practically a deity nearly the entire country watched her efforts to mix it up with the best male golfers in the world. And while maybe this time she did not make the cut, she taught us much about how to challenge our limits and how to do so with wonderful grace and class.

Speaking of uppity women, I am certain by now you know that Paula Ratcliff ran 2:15:25 to create a whole new marathon standard for women. What you might not know is just how much that trek meant. Her effort was richly rewarded according to Track and Field News writers who reported that she earned more than $700,000 for winning the London Marathon in world record time. That total includes appearance fees, prize money and bonus money for breaking the record. There is I am sure another big pile of money that her sponsors will add to the total. As of June 1, only three American men had run a faster time during 2003.

The FSU distance revival continues. First, though the latest rumors have Bob Braman and Leroy Burrell as the top two candidates to replace retiring head track Coach Terry Long. I know I am biased toward the distances, but Bob has a great coaching record and is doing one heck of a job recruiting at FSU. I believe he has the energy and desire to move Florida State up the success latter on a consistent basis, building on a program that Coach Long will leave in pretty good shape. Leroy Burrell is a former world record holder in the 100 meters and has been the Head Coach at the University of Houston for the past four years where his women's teams have had moderate success. I believe Coach Braman's background in Florida will be a huge edge for recruiting in Florida and his enthusiasm will keep the defending ACC champs rising. But then I don't get to vote in this one and I fear the delay in announcing a decision is not a good signů

Nonetheless, Coach Long looks to go out with a bang as at least twelve athletes have qualified for the NCAA championships after the regional meet in Fairfax, Virginia this weekend. Yes, I am talking about a regional track meet, not a regional baseball tournament. While the latter have been around for a long time, this is the first year for the former as the NCAA has gone to a brand new format for determining participants in the NCAA Track and Field Championships. I think the new format is great. In the past athletes were selected for the championship based on times or distances. Usually there was an automatic time or distance that if bettered meant an athlete was in for sure. Then additional athletes who had "provisional" marks were added until the desired number of athletes had been selected. Now selection is based on head to head competition in four regionals across the country. The top five finishers in each event move on to the Championships and then a few more are added based on marks. There are some exceptions like the 10,000 meter race where participants are selected solely on the basis of time to avoid making athletes run two 10k so close together.

The FSU men grabbed second in the regional (out of 56 teams), while the women grabbed the fifth spot (out of 47 teams). The University of Florida grabbed both top spots. Natalie Hughes won the 1500 for the women with a time of 4:19.4. Vicky Gill has the best time in the country for the 10K (33:14) so she qualifies for that event in addition to moving on in the 5K by taking third in 15:53.37. Laura Gerber ran 2:05.46 for second in the 800 to qualify for the final dance. On the men's side Joep Tigchelaar has the second fastest 10K time (28:33.81) to qualify in that event and copied Gill's double effort by taking second in the 5K in a time of 13:55.30. Maarten van den Heuvel ran a 3:48.52 to advance in the 1500. Good luck to all of the FSU athletes in Championships in Sacrament two weeks from now.

Ryan Deak scored a double in the May issue of Track and Field News with a number four ranking nationally in the mile with a time of 4:07.33 and a number thirteen ranking in the two mile with a time of 9:01.00. He is currently listed as number seven in the mile, while his time has dropped out of the two mile list. Ryan's times are converted from meter races as Track and Field News does not list the 1500, 1600, 3000 and 3200 separately, but rather combines the list by converting the times and listing them all under the mile distance. This means Ryan's rankings are all the more impressive. Deak is now on his way to Colorado where he will compete for Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, hopefully within the radar screen of Mark Wetmore, Coach at the University of Colorado.

A prepster to watch on the national scene is Allyson Felix who stunned a field of world class athletes at the Mt. Sac Relays by running a 22.51 200 meter race to break the American Junior and High School records. The high school senior in Los Angeles is nicknamed "chicken legs" and can also run the 100 in 11.25.

The Cheers for Hilary total is now over $5300. Thanks again to all who have made this possible. Saturday is the Pot Luck Bash with the 2003 edition marked by the Flying Pigs. We will honor the top high school athletes for Track and Field and Cross Country. And a final note of gossip, former FSU assistant coach Al Schmidt is now the head coach at Mississippi State and has built a team there that is expected to contend for the NCAA championship. I guess I should have listened better when I attended the running clinic Coach Schmidt taught while here in Tallahassee.