Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Foreign Policy Thoughts

"Pain is a wonderful thing and now I was feeling wonderful, really
- Unknown trail runner

As this week's Election debate will focus on foreign policy, it sends me down a different trail and I got to thinking about how International Track & Field and marathon running was even before I began doing this crazy stuff back in the late 70's. Before I began long-distance running, as a High School Student, I was still very interested in watching the running events of T & F meets. Didn't care much for guys throwing things or jumping over things, but running around a track as fast as you could had some perverse magnetism that drew me in. These were usually international meets, so you got familiar with the stars of the day. But they weren't all African runners, like today. Instead, the stars were pretty much spread around, so there was much international pride. I remember up north (where I was brought up), the biggest indoor meet was the Millrose Games, and drew all the fastest runners of the day. The last event of all these meets was always the mile. Eleven laps to the mile around a banked wooden track, with elbows flailing each other. It was like NASCAR at Talledega.  Ah, the excitement of watching Irishman Eamonn Coglan win that mile year after year, earning him one of the best nicknames ever..."The Chairman of the Boards". And seeing American Jim Beatty, becoming the first person to run under four minutes indoors. I can still recall broadcaster Curt Gowdy screaming..."I think he's going to do it, I think he's going to do it"...and yes he did it in 3:58.9! There are still very intriguing indoor meets around, but the excitement seems to be local in Boston, New York, San Diego, etc. but it's hard to follow when the TV coverage is either on some Shopping Channel or Internet Pay-for-View. You know, it's funny, but 40-50 years ago, I was watching an indoor 3000 meter race (basically 2 miles, so not a breakneck pace at 11 laps/mile). During the race, one of the local High School or College bands began playing a song popular at the time "Midnight in Moscow". It had the perfect beat for a 3000M race I guess. Anyway, half a century later, sometimes I'm lollygagging down the road and that song pops into my mind! Crazy, not very interesting, but there you go! 

There wasn't too much track stuff going on outdoors that I recall, but most of you are probably too young to remember but there used to be yearly U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. (Russia) track meets held that were riveting. This was a time when the "cold war" was going on between us and them. Russia was the Evil Empire that I remember as a kid, and these meets began a year after "they" beat us in the Space Race with the launching of Sputnik and were held every year between 1958 - 1985. We hated the Russians, and they didn't think very kindly about us Capitalistic Americans. I remember the meets were usually televised on the old Wide World of Sports on Saturdays. Pride and nationalism, as well as tremendous competition captured the whole nation's attention. We wanted to beat them SO BAD. It surpassed any type of watered down competition you see in the Summer Olympics these days. It was high drama. Someone should write a book about those meets. Doubt we'll ever see Country vs. Country intensity again, though there doesn't seem to be much love between Kenya and Ethiopia these days.

 Speaking of those two marathon dominating countries, I sure am glad the African "invasion" onto the world distance running scene started in the late 80's instead of the early 70's, otherwise most of the American, British and European stars would have been relegated to being also rans. Just think, for those of us in the U.S., runners like Salazar, Rodgers, Shorter, Curp, Beardsley, Tabb, Sandoval, Meyer, Gregorek, Wells, Eyestone and like so many others would not have had the success they did if the Africans had been on the scene in the numbers they are now. Their times of 2:08, 2:09, and 2:10 would have gotten buried into the graves of the 2nd tier of runners. In the infancy of the Internet, sometimes we would agonize to get marathon results, at times 24 hours later, to see if Rodgers won in Amsterdam, or Frank Shorter won in Japan. 

So, the Foreign Policy of politics will take center stage this week, but it doesn't take much to send me down a very different and much more enjoyable path. Ah, memories...I got a million of 'em.

I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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