MORAGA, Calif. – Cross Country associate head coach Tom Kloos recently returned from the 2013 Track & Field World Championships. Often called the super bowl of track, it is held every year when it is not an Olympic year. The best athletes in the world compete and it is a huge step to have Saint Mary’s represented by its coach.
Below is a blog from coach Kloos:
Moscow to Moraga
In nature, the flash of lightening precedes the peal of thunder. In track and field, there is thunder, then lightning, and then thunder again. The crowd thunders applause when Usain Bolt steps out onto the track, he puts on a display of his lightning speed, and then crowd again thunders their approval. Several hundred meters outside the main competition stadium, at the warmup track, I feel rather than see Bolt’s second World Championships victory. For just a brief moment, the frantic fluttering of hundreds of individual athletes, coaches, agents, and officials in the warmup arena pauses to note this phenomenon of our sport, and then all return to their separate tasks.
I do not at all lament not watching the world’s fastest man complete his predictable task. For me, the warmup track is the most incredible spectacle of the whole event. It is like hearing the New York Symphony Orchestra prepare for a performance without the structure provided by a conductor: total cacophony of near perfect sounds. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of separate rituals are observed as athletes from all disciplines (running, jumping, throwing, hurdling, and sprinting) of track and field prepare to execute their task. There is no order on the track or field, as each athlete attends his or her own agenda. Renaud Lavillenie, French Olympic gold medalist, stutters in his approach as a Japanese coach crosses the pole vault runway. High jumpers carve arcs across heavy freeway track traffic as sprinters speed through their lanes, headphones clamped tight blocking out the rest of this circus.
Most keenly I watch the more subdued of all of these athletes, a handful of East African distance women: three Ethiopians, two Kenyans, and one Bahranian. These are the real competition for my charge, Shannon Rowbury in the women’s 5000 meters, and their methods and movements are observed with more than just bemusement. I notice that the Ethiopians warm up together, each step and drill of the process, and include the Bahranian. The Kenyans are separate from one another, and from all others. I watch their jog progress from a slow shuffle to a fast tempo, and note that throughout they exude a sense of effortlessness. Their contact with the ground seemingly so light it would not rustle fall leaves. If their footstrikes did make a sound it would be heard, because their voices are not. The focus of their ritual is complete. I note the arm swing drill that moves counter to the legs, and contemplate taking it on for my own.
I observe these athletes so closely because they are the competition to be chased. They have all run faster than any American and are the favorites. In the outcome, the Ethiopians finish 1-3-5 and the Kenyans 2-4. The East Africans expel their own bolt of lightening, without the thunder. Shannon runs a respectable 7th, ahead of the Russian, Pole, Bahranian, Dutchwoman, and Australian, but is disappointed to not have broken the Ethiopian and Kenyan stranglehold on the event. In the last laps of the race, she had moved past the 3rd Ethiopian and was closing on the 2nd Kenyan. She believes unwaveringly that she can compete with and defeat these runners. Over the next three years, culminating in the Rio Olympics, I believe too that she can.
Now I make my way back from Moscow and the World Championships to Moraga and the West Coast Conference. I observe similarities in the dominance of Portland and BYU in men’s cross country as the Kenyans and Ethiopians on the world level. I have seen their athletes move in the warm up arena and competition tracks, and know how good they are. I also know that the first step in competing with them is establishing the firm belief that it can be done, then creating the expectation that it will be done, and finally putting in the work to do so.
Off and running with the Gaels,…