Reaching Your Potential: Pass or Fail?

Story written by EPelle

Have you as an athlete felt as though you reached your full potential?

This is a subject which has both intrigued me and burned inside of me through the years following an athletics career which had its challenging periods and very successful ones as well.

I was indirectly asked this question on a forum on Wednesday, and can honestly say in retrospect that I always felt I had the potential to achieve greater things than what was eventually recorded as historical fact.

My name is neither Alex Rodgriguez nor Kenenisa Bekele. I didn't have the world at my fingertips once-upon-a-time when I was an athlete, though I had aspirations of being as famous as Patrik Sjöberg and Sergei Bubka -- even Joe Montana. I had Olympic goals and had the potential to really make something big of myself had I stuck with things.

I'd heard about this word "potential" since the first day I was ever forced to run - a Monday, the 27th day of the month of August many years ago.

It all started off when I ran in a compulsory 880 yard run around the high school track -- something we 35 kids, each in grade-9 who had been arbitrarily selected for that first-period class, were made to do to compare notes to other kids from other periods and other years.

The guy holding the watch, who doubled as the basketball trainer, said someting about it being "a fitness test". Two laps around that dirt track at 08.00 seemed like torture to most of us.

That "potential" landed me directly on a cross country team where others, watching me train and compete, made long-winded comments about potential -- even though some of them were more seasoned, more experienced and a lot faster than a 14-year-old guy who ran so "effortlessly" and "like he's not even trying."

I trained for -- and competed in -- two sports during those four years - eight seasons with the same trainer who, as time elapsed and the end drew near, finally told me what my potential was. I'd just not reach it in high school, he said -- it had to do with something about building-block years. Those years were spent running conservatively in practice, and "pace" in the races. We didn't try anything foolish. However, where there was nothing ventured, there was nothing much gained for most of my teammates.

One of my teammates attempted to skirt around caution and patience during his four years in high school. He had a father whose expectations were higher and more outrageous than nearly anyone I'd ever met - save one other father whose son competed against me week-in and week-out in for two of those years in the exact same event all the way to the state 1.600m -final -- a race neither of us won.

This particular teammate had "potential" as well -- and it seemed he had a tonne more of it than the rest of us in the same class. He was already a varsity runner at grade-9, and had broken 15.00 for 3 miles in cross country during grade-10 -- a year our seven-man crew won conference with 15 points, won sub-section with 25, repeated as section champions and finished six lousy points short of winning the Northern CA championships.

He had the "potential" to run 8.36 in the two-mile, he was told, and made every living moment count toward attaining that goal.

He won a very tough conference on a monstrously-challenging course our grade-12 cross country season -- I finished a second behind him in second,. He thought he had a shot at the state title. I had the same goal in mind and beat him to it in the qualifying meet for state, finishing second at the sectional qualification meet; he finished third, four seconds behind. Neither of us collected medals at the state meet the following week, however. He finished in the top-20, and I succumbed to the adverse affects of a very bad cold during the final mile of the 5km race.

My teammate didn't reach his cross country potential, and his father, who was obsessed with winning, had determined that his son would be the star that his older sister, who attended an even more competitive school -- a public one with a national record-holder who still ranks in the all-time lists at her distance -- had failed to become.

He competed in track one final time during high school, and still had hopes of "running under 9 [minutes in the two-mile]" by the time spring came around. He'd tossed aside the outrageous notion of running two 4.18 miles, because he couldn't yet break 4.30 for one over half the distance.

Unfortunately, in this story, that kid -- who looked like a man among boys, fell far short of his potential, whatever it was. He set personal bests at three distances his final season, running 800m in 2.01, 1.600m in 4.22, and running 9.30 for the 3.200m.

Or, perhaps that was his full potential, and he was aiming too high to begin with.

That kid would never run another competitive race as far as I knew. Even worse, he's been AWOL from the face of the earth over the past two decades, with only rumours left behind.

There are many morals to that story -- pick whichever one is applicable to you. Only one was applicable to me, however.

One life application from the story above that I packed with me as I entered university was not to stress over the final clock times as I competed, but rather to listen to my new trainer and do what he said in order to be a good competitor. I entered a great university with an excellent tradition, and my trainer had helped previous recruits reach and exceed their goals and realise their potential. He said he could help me reach my potential as well.

I trained and raced hard my first year at university, and eventually was told what my potential was -- first by my teammates who, again, said something about running effortlessly, and then by my trainer, who knew when and how often to dangle that carrot in front of me.

Three years later, when all was said and done -- at least under the university's colours, unfortunately, I fell far, far short of the time goals -- the ones I was not supposed to dwell on despite the fact that a big 3 followed by 34 was taped onto my running logbook. I'd lost the one for the 12,5-lap race -- I think its four numbers were 1 3 4 and 2.

Somehow "potential" got mingled together with those, though memory has now grown faint as to which was the dream and which was the goal.

I didn't reach my potential in athletics. I didn't break four minutes in the mile, nor did I chase the wind -- and pace-makers -- around European tracks as a realisation of potential would have allowed...demanded...afforded. I had a great gift and used it well, but not to its fullest capability. I squandered some of it, and injured another part of it.

Finally, I grew bored of having potential without the results that I finally traded in my spikes for a remote control and watched athletics on television rather than compete against the very people whose potentials were being realised.

There are million steps I'd take backward in order to have fulfilled my potential, but I can't, so I won't. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to realise that I had potential in the first place, though it has now simply become gossimer mind fiction with no true effect on my present day life.

What "gift" were you given as an athlete, and do you feel you reached down as deep into your "potential" as you could?


Wariner Cuts Ties With Hart

Story written by EPelle

I suppose stranger things have happened in an Olympic year than a reigning champion firing his coach of five years eight months before the athlete is set to defend his title, but right now the mind is having a challenging comparing anyone to American 400m sprinter Jeremy Wariner's latest career move.

Wariner participates in track and field. Ah, let's not beat around the bush here. That's akin to saying that Tiger Woods plays golf or that Michael Jordan dribbled a basketball.

Wariner, a double-gold medalist in Athens four years ago and four-time world champion, earns his living running one lap-races around a track in a sport governed by intrically-woven timings and had done so with a coach who'd been in the sport well over 40 years.

An athlete like Wariner times his interval training, his race starts, his race splits and even his lean at the finish line. He even has to time how long it will take him following races of note to conduct interviews before he's ushered off for drug testing... 60 minutes to be exact.

Apparently, however, Wariner missed the lesson at Baylor University on the art of timing an exit from a highly successful programme - and now from the coach behind that programme's success.

But then again, Wariner left a Hart-based programme once before, in 2004, when, following his second gold medal in Athens, he turned professional and was forced to forego his two remaining years of NCAA competition.

What Wariner does with his career is his business - in every literal sense of the word. Jeremy Wariner runs, Jeremy Wariner gets paid. His shoe sponsor, adidas, pours in the big bucks and his agent, Michael Johnson - the 200m and 400m world-record holder who brokers such deals for his prótegé - gets a cut.

And so did Hart. Until Tuesday.

Hart, who coached Johnson to two world records (19,32 over 200m and 43,18 over 400m) during Johnson's long and successful career as an athlete, was asked recently by Wariner's legal camp to review revisions to his contract - one which has been renewed on a yearly basis, but came to an impasse during negotiations.

Hart, who had been operating on a one-year contract as Wariner's personal coach each year for the past five years that called for him to receive a percentage of Wariner’s earnings, received a contract proposal that reduced that percentage - a proposal which Hart stated he simply could not accept.

“It was a significant cutback, and I didn’t think I could do it. Well, actually, I knew I couldn’t do it.”

"It's just business," Hart said Wariner told him.

The business Wariner is attempting to protect is his reported more than $1 million he earns annually through his prize winnings, appearance fees and sponsorship contracts. Johnson, his agent, also receives a proportion of the deals he brokers for Wariner, and it has been speculated that Wariner has attempted to shore up how much money is shaved from the top of his net salary once Johnson and Hart receive their fair cuts and then taxes are applied.

I have another theory behind the split which I won't share, because I believe the move could be more than a "business" decision. I'll save you the theory for a rainy day, because it's boring, and at this point in time, it's baseless.

So what really may cause a multi-millionaire who has run 44,00-flat or faster in each of the previous four seasons to suddenly split with a coach mid-stream in an Olympic year?

Three years ago, Wariner stated that he wanted to break Johnson's 400m record within "the next two years", but stated that Hart had a four- to five-year goal for him instead. Wariner nearly made good on his 2007 goal of breaking the world record, running 43,45 - the fifth-fastest time ever run, but finished short of his goal.

Wariner, who has switched on an interim basis to Baylor coach Michael Ford - who also coaches Wariner’s training partner and former teammate Darold Williamson, may be looking to take the helm of his ship and steer it as he sees fit. Hart, though he gave Wariner the needed groundwork to be a champion, may have been holding Wariner back to an extent, and was politely released by virtue of weakening the contract - a move to which Hart would certainly object... and did.

Wariner turns 24-years-old tomorrow. He's had comparisons made between himself and Michael Johnson ever since he burst onto the international scene during the past Olympiad. Hart has provided the workouts to help Wariner get the best results for his training efforts, and Johnson has been a mentor who has guided his pupil past the distractions which are borne of a superstar.

It appears Johnson, however, has not suffered a decrease in pay structure as Wariner attempts to defend his global title. But then again, why should he? He's an athlete representative who gets his star performer preferred lanes in invitational-only meetings and five-star accomodations and limousine service as Wariner spends his days and nights long from home. He structures the deals, Wariner performs, and both come out winners.

Hart had a similar package until the shake-up. He was the guy who borrowed from other successful coaches and made the workouts tailored to his own athletes. Wariner ran them as a collegian, and he continued doing so as a professional. Hart became a master with Johnson and devised race plans for his new prótegé. Wariner, competing against himself and the clock at stadiums in places like Zürich, Athens, Stockholm, London, Osaka and more, followed them. And, for the most part - save a couple of races he failed to finish - their working relationship was a success.

And that's what Hart appreciated with their previous deals: the faster and more successful Wariner ran, the more Hart was rewarded. If Wariner flopped, so did the amount paid into Hart's paycheck. And he was fine with that.

Ford is now taking over the training duties - without a contract, by the way. He's attempting to keep Wariner, who is hugely popular and well-respected and liked around the world, respectable enough an athlete that no one takes notice as he attempts to build up to the USA Olympic trials at Hayward Field on the University of Oregon's campus in June.

Wariner's first race of the season will be in Australia at the Sydney Grand Prix on 16-February. He is set to follow that race with one more in Melbourne five days later. He has the tools in Johnson to block out these distractions, but does he have the experience to run on his own business with an inexperienced Olympic advisor however?

An even better question: Will Hart, who claims to have no anymosity toward Wariner, help a competitor who needs an extra lift this season?

Again, stranger things have happened in an Olympic year.


UK Athletics Chief Calls For Tougher Anti-Doping Measures

Story written by EPelle

UK Athletics Chief Executive Niels de Vos has demanded that drug cheats within his sport be subjected to criminal proceedings, and would like police involvement in an attempt to thwart athletes from cheating their way to success.

"Athletics is a sport where we have to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to root out and identify cheats and then, when we have done, not to turn around and welcome them back with open arms two years later.

"It is, it seems to me, wholly hypocritical. A British vest is something that people rightly strive years to earn and achieve. It's one of the greatest moments of their lives, and for it to be despoiled by a cheat is wrong and my job, as a chief executive, is to make that vest maintains its purity in the future.

"The prevailing view among UK athletes and many world athletes is that there should be a lifetime ban for drug offences. I'd like to see the world governing body institute lifetime bans for drug cheats."

Those sentiments were in response to disgraced sprinter Dwain Chambers' attempted comeback -- an action dos Vos would like to see fail (See related article).

Chambers returned from a two-year anti-doping suspension in 2006, and was permitted to return to the sport under former UK Athletics executive David Moorcraft - a former 5.000m world-record holder. Chambers owes a considerable fortune to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for being payed earnings whilst he was on drugs, and will be forced to pay back that money if - and when - he can.

Chambers attempted to make a career in the NFL, but was unsuccessful at making it out of NFL Europe (the feeder league for the NFL consisting of six teams: Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hamburg and Amsterdam) before it folded its league.

Chambers has since attempted to return to track and field, and has hopes of qualifying for the IAAF World Indoor Championships - a goal which de Vos would like to deny Chambers. Chambers has vowed to make this a legal battle in an effort to put back on the Union Jack vest and compete for his country.

The Chambers controversy isn't the primary focus de Vos has in his immediate line of sight, however. de Vos would also like to have law enforcement more involved in the fight to keep his sport clean, and has suggested Great Britain follow the French model. where possesssion of banned substances has begun leading to criminal charges.

de Vos could take this matter further, however, as merely catching athletes in an act of possesing illegal performance-enhancing drugs will not prove to be easy.

The Italian anti-doping agency works in conjunction with prosecutors to enforce state power to punish athletes, support personnel, doctors, coaches and leaders involved in criminal anti-doping matters.

The Italian ministry routinely tracks banned substances by reviewing lists maintained by both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

A criminal investigation is launched by the prosecutor's office when they are alerted by those lists that an athlete has been implicated in a doping scandal. The prosecutor has extensive authorisation to approve wire taps, if they believe that evidence of possible doping has occurred with an athlete.

The Italian Olympic Committee can also request of its anti-doping prosecutor to request FIDAL -- the Italian Athletics Federation -- to punish athletes.

The French are not alone in making concerted efforts to criminalise those who cheat, as Portuguese authorities discussed an initiative at their 2007 National Sports Council to propose tough sentences that range from six months to three years in prison for those convicted of violating certain anti-doping rules.

The European Union's member states have initiatives in place to combat the problem of doping, with both specific and general legislation suggested for public anti-doping violations, and joint action available by public authorities and sport organisations to criminalise violations.

de Vos joined the Sale Sharks rugby team at the start of the 2002-2003 season, and helped them win the Premiership trophy in 2006. He is credited with turning around fan support and participation with the team - key elements UK Athletics are hoping to bank off of during de Vos's tenure as chief executive.


Soboleva Sets National Indoor Mile Record

Story written by EPelle

Russian Yelena Soboleva began her Olympic 1.500m gold meal quest in excellent fashion today in Moscow, setting a national record in a mile race at the Russian Winter IAAF indoor meet on Sunday.

Soboleva won in 4 minutes, 20,21 seconds, eclipsing 3.50 seconds off of Elena Zadorozhnaya's previous indoor record of 4.24,11 -- a time she set in 2001.

Soboleva, who set an outdoor personal best (4.15,63) in the mile in 2007, became the third-fastest female (with the fourth-fastest performance) ever at the indoor distance, trailing only Romanians Doine Melinte (4.17,14 and 4.18,86) and Paula Ivan (4.18,99), the 1988 Olympic 1.500m champion.

Soboleva took control of the race and took over the lead at the 1.000m mark (2.46,39) never to relinquish her position as she used part of her 1.57,28 800m speed to close out her historic run with a very respectable 2.07 finaly 880-yard split.

Teammate Olga Komyagina had a breakthrough race in finishing second in 4.23,49, a time which ranks 13th on the world all-time indoor mile list. Komyagina has a lifetime 1.500m best of 4.02,32 set eight years ago in Leverkusen, but has spent a greater part of her past three seasons acting as a pace maker for high profile races around Europe.

Russia's Svetlana Masterkova holds the outdoor mile record of 4.12,56 set in 1996 at the Weltklasse meet in Zürich, Switzerland. Ivan, at 4.15,61, is second on the all-time list and 0,02 seconds faster than Soboleva's outdoor best - the third-fastest ever recorded.

Soboleva, who set the world indoor 1.500m record (3.58,28) in 2006, is seeking redemption in Beijing as she challenges for the gold medal -- something which eluded her at the 2007 IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Osaka, Japan.

Soboleva contested the 1.500m - the official Olympic distance - only three times in 2007 following a 2006 successful 2006 campaign in which she won a silver medal at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, but was able to run under four minutes in each of her competitions - a feat which garnered her favourite status as she lined up for the final in Osaka.

Soboleva ran tough and brave against her fierce competitors over much of the 3,75-lap race, but was unable to match strides or kicks with her nemesis Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain during the remaining segments of the final lap. Jamal took home the global title ahead of Ukraine's Iryna Lishchynska, and Soboleva finished third.

The women's mile was not the only event at the Russian Winter Meeting featuring likely Olympic finalists, as the men's 800m run was won by reigning Olympic champion Yuri Borzakovskiy, who is making a good early-season march toward defending that crown in August.

Borzakovskiy, who skipped the 2007 indoor season, broke away from Kenyan Wilfred Bungei, the IAAF World Indoor champion, with a lap to go to win the four lap race in a seasons-best time of 1 minute, 46.78 seconds. Borzakovskiy, running his second 800m race this season, utilised a 26,08-second final lap to send Bungei away.

Yuri Koldin finished third.

Other notable performances were turned in by 2006 European Outdoor Champion André Silnov, who won the high jump (2,36m) ahead of teammate Jaroslav Rybakov (2,30m); Olga Simagina in the women's long jump (6,92m); and Olusoji Fasuba in the men's 60m (6,54).