Jearl Miles Clark suffers MES (masters embarrassment syndrome)

Jearl Miles Clark

USATF is well-trained now. In its interview with Track & Field Hall of Fame inductee Jearl Miles Clark, the M-word arises: “In recent years you’ve dabbled some in masters track and field. Will that continue?” Jearl replied: “I may just to see what my body can do. I just might, I don’t know. The ladies are very competitive. They have a great spirit and I don’t want to go out there half-steppin and get my butt spanked. I don’t like losing, and if I’m going to do something I’m going to put 100% into it. The camaraderie and the passion is great and it’s a great spirit to be around. It would be interesting to go back and see what I could do in masters track.”

We’ve heard this before — that an elite Olympian would love to do masters track, but only if they do well.

In fact, the story is told (by me) that Tommie Smith once promised to jump into masters sprinting, “but only if I’m sure I’ll never lose.” Of course, he’s never shown up.

Many Olympians have, in fact, checked their egos at the check-in table and run (and lost) in masters competition. I love those guys and gals. Too bad some elites have a self-image to protect. They’re missing tons of fun!

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November 13, 2010

31 Responses

  1. Tom Phillips - November 13, 2010

    Good piece, Ken. I just think MES is a bit of an excuse, and that what most of these primadonnas mean is “Only if they pay me”.

    Nice that the likes of Willie Banks never had MES, though.

  2. peter taylor - November 13, 2010

    I read the same piece, Ken. Actually, I was a little taken aback, as in April 2008 I talked to Jearl at the Penn Relays. Perhaps 2 hours later, she, Charmaine Roberts, Renee “The Jet” Henderson, and Jane Brooker spanked the world record in the 4 x 400 for women 40-44 by running 3:56.27.

    That was a masters-only race, and thus I thought it would count as a masters event in Jearl’s history. Oh, well, she was very pleasant, and I would like to see her in Albuquerque for our indoor nationals so that I could talk to her again.

  3. Jerry Smartt - November 13, 2010

    Albeit I’m 130, let me ‘weigh in’ on this. I went right into Masters comps from open competition in the 1960s. Since I was a kid racing on the playgrounds, I have just loved running footraces. THAT equates to exercise/health/longevity/quality of life. Great runners from the past and unknown runners from the past JUST DON’T GET IT. I see someone at 300 and they look at me and think P.O.W and that turns them off. People say, “Jerry, you inspire me.” In turn, they do nothing. It’s sad. How neat would it be to get Jim Grelle, Thane Baker, Billy Mills, Jim Beatty, et al ON THE TRACK? It’s all about health and having a blast, folks, as you know so well. Smartty

  4. Who's your Daddy ? - November 13, 2010

    One does well as a master if you train hard….and more importantly….stay injury free !!There should be no shame at this stage of one’s life.

  5. keith mcquitter - November 13, 2010

    its not easy to return to track as it seems,my last race was at 29 at penn against renoldo neahemyeia,sorry for the spealing,but comeing back to run at 48 was a bit challenging .im 51 now and just getting back in to gear,so I can keep ahead of the best M50 runners,just give her time if she loves the sport she will overcome,

  6. wayne bennett - November 13, 2010

    Thane Baker competed well into his 60’s and is in the Masters Hall of Fame. Has been the official head starter at the Texas Relays for over 40 years. He is the starter for our Texas Masters Championships every year. Thaneis now 79 years old and is in good health and works out regularly.

  7. Fidel - November 13, 2010

    Just my 2C and also in response to Keith M: As a former professional baseball player, it IS hard to go back and play your chosen sport on a lower level. For me, that is city league baseball/softball. I think my experiences(and other retired pro baseball players)are the equivalent to an elite track athlete going from competing in major competitions/Europe and now faced with masters track as one of the only alternatives to stay in the sport. It’s such a letdown. Large crowds, large money, large times to empty stadiums, no money, slower times. Also, in the US, the Olympics are a big deal, but for Masters, our Olympics…not so much. Can’t beat the comaraderie on either level, though. I still love baseball but not city league baseball…doesn’t compare.

  8. peter taylor - November 14, 2010

    I concur, Fidel; it’s not just Olympians and not only fear of embarrassment. I just watched (for the first time, even though I was there) the men’s 4 x 800 Championship of America at the Penn Relays this past April. Robby Andrews anchored the Univ of Virgina to an electrifying win over University of Oregon (7:15.38 to 7:15.55).

    What’s my point? The crowd at Penn that day numbered 54,310, with Usain Bolt the biggest star. There was no rain, but the crowd made its own thunder (the place was deafening). Presuming that Robby Andrews is now 21, in 2029, when he is 40, will he want to run the M40 800 outdoors in our nationals?

    Last year the meet was in Oshkosh, and let’s say it will be there in 2029. First for Robby, if the pattern of 2009 repeated itself, would be flying out to Wisconsin on Wednesday in anticipation of the Thursday trials in the 800. At Oshkosh in 2009, only 14 competitors were listed in the entries, but for some reason they scheduled trials.

    Get to the track early on Thursday to warm up, only to find after a few hours that the M40 trial in the 800 rolled to a final on Saturday (as it did last year in Oshkosh). Hang around Oshkosh until Saturday. Come back that day for the final. Look up into the stands and find a few spectators, maybe 125.

    The race in Oshkosh was won by the redoubtable Jim Sorensen in 1:59.58, with Nick Berra second in 2:00.13. Let’s say the 2029 race is won in 1:59. For a 40-year-old man to run that time takes tremendous training and a lot of courage. When you’re 3rd with 100 meters to go, as Robby was at the Penn Relays this year, the crowd practically carries you on its shoulders to the finish. But the spectators can’t do that at Oshkosh.

    You will need a psychological lift in 2029, but somehow the solitary cheers of your family members will pale in comparison to the thunder at Penn in 2010. That is why I don’t expect to see Robby Andrews or any of his 3 teammates on the winning 4 x 800 team in the 2010 Penn Relays attending our 2029 nationals. The 800 is a hard event, but it feels different in masters (same requirement for courage, but the atmosphere is not the same).

  9. Tom Phillips - November 14, 2010

    I think there are two points here, and they need to be kept apart. Yes, “going back in” after a break is hard, no matter what your previous level. I did it after more than 15 years out, and know this.

    However, there is a separate issue about simply not stopping, and certainly about not deciding arbitrarily to retire at, say, 35.

    My aim, as a manager of a very good club Masters squad, is to get the “youngsters” in at 35 with no discontinuity. Then, even if they do decide to take a sabbatical, get injured, etc, they know what it is they will be coming back into. Lose them at 35 and, in my view, there is a far higher likelihood of losing them for ever.

  10. Weia Reinboud - November 14, 2010

    @Peter’s “But the spectators can’t do that at Oshkosh.” Do they really love the sport when it depends upon audiences?

  11. peter taylor - November 14, 2010

    I hate to comment a 3rd time, Weia, but you called out my name. No, many don’t love the sport, but they do love the excitement, the buzz, the feeling that Robby Andrews of Virginia must have had when he was 3rd with 100 meters to go at the Penn Relays — I am going to win this thing !!!!

    When you take away the crowds, the press coverage, and the admiration of people you don’t even know, many people say, “Now I am not so sure.”

    After 3 days to even a month of training after a long layoff, many people aged 30+ who are trying to come back say, “Forget about it.” Others decide to run about 15 miles a week and enter a 5000, 8000, or 10,000 once or twice a year to see what kind of shape they are in and for the general fun of it all.

    Very few will say, “I think I will run the 800 or 1500 in masters competition.” That means hard work, and you don’t even get paid for it.

  12. Fidel Banuelos - November 14, 2010

    As to the ‘excitement’ of it all, maybe that’s why a local road race attracts thousands on any given Sunday. Maybe those ex-tracksters are opting to run road 5k’s vs track 1500’s because of the crowds, it’s the place to be on a Sunday, friends are doing it, city supports it, etc…How can we get that same atmosphere for Masters Track?

    Locally, here in Portland, I think the Portland Track Festival folks have the right idea but that’s just one event out of the entire summer.

  13. Jearl Clark - November 14, 2010

    Wow! MES? Primadonna? LOL That is so not me. Hope to see you at the convention. God bless.
    Much love to Masters Track and Field!

  14. Max Speed - November 14, 2010

    Sorry Peter but I’m with Weia on this one. For many if not most masters athletes, it was never about “getting paid” or “large crowds”. It was always about “the love of the sport”. I’ve never run in front of huge crowds or got a dime to race. I do it because I am passionate about track…always have been, always will be. I want to constantly improve on my current performances. I don’t dwell on past times or jumps or throws or crowds or money, that is the stuff of egos. Just train hard (because you like to), show up (because you dare to), and show em whatcha got. Thats my “buzz”.

  15. peter taylor - November 14, 2010

    Hate to post a 4th time, Max, but I think I agree, not disagree, with you. Most of our current masters athletes were not big stars as open or collegiate athletes. They are not looking for huge crowds or $$ when they compete.

    Those who were big stars in the past, like Carl Lewis, Sydney Maree, and a few hundred others, almost without exception do not compete in masters T&F today. Carl Lewis will turn 50 on July 1, 2011, just a few days before Worlds in Sacramento. Carl could certainly take advantage of being the “baby” in the M50 group at Worlds, but somehow I don’t think he will be there.

    So, Max, I am talking about a group that would strengthen our competitions (but will not show) rather than those who do show, the group you are describing. I was speculating on their motivations for not being in our meets.

  16. Matthew - November 14, 2010

    Glad to see Jearl Clark posted.

    She never said she would love to do Masters track ONLY if she does well. She said she would do it if she could put 100% into it. Totally different.

  17. Max Speed - November 14, 2010

    Peter, I understand now. You are right, it would be great for masters competitions in all sports if some of these former stars could put their ego’s or whatever aside and just compete.

  18. MrTrainer (Knoxville) - November 14, 2010

    Just because she is not running a bunch of Master’s Meets, does not make her a Primadonna. Nonetheless, as a Master’s athlete now, I am sure that I could run forever and still not chart up the mileage, records, accolades, etc that she has in 40plus years. Also, as a masters competitor, I would say that bashing our Olympians and Hall of Famers, would probably not be the appropriate way to attract them to our meets. She is a genuine and good person and has the “track record” on all levels to support it. Be kind people. And if you can not be kind….just try to be nice!

  19. Rick - November 14, 2010

    I do it for the sheer joy of competing in Track Meets once again. After a 30 year absence from Track with only an occasional 5K, running the sprints (100-200-400) against others is a blast. I don’t care about the size of the crowds but run with pride with my competitors & sometimes in front of friends & family. Like most masters, we cheer for one another in every event. The bond with the other Masters Athletes is one of the major reasons I love to compete in Masters Track.

  20. Byrke Beller - November 14, 2010

    I do it for the euphoric feeling from speed! And the excitement of competition, and comraderie, and fitness benefits. And my wife likes my six-pack.

  21. tony plaster - November 15, 2010

    For Pete Taylor, Here you may be wrong Pete. Robbie Andrews has grown up in a club and around Masters Track. His father compets with SAC and case in point ,when he was running the Millrose HS Mile at 10 pm Robbie would be downstairs at the Garden cheering us at 5:45 when he sould have been resting. Life long atheletics is the optimum goal.

  22. Jerry Smartt - November 15, 2010

    In my case, the key has been to never stop. 1st comp in HS in 1948, Junior College, University and then to the West Coast and open comps and into Seniors/Masters. We don’t know WHEN we’re going to shoot on through, but if it’s at a competition, what a way to go. No freakin’ waiting rooms/doctors/clinics. NO NEEDLES! 5,000, drop, and straight to the morgue. Smartty

  23. keith McQuitter - November 15, 2010

    to fidel I LEFT TRACK TO PLAY FOOTBALL then went back to track at 48 its bad enough that I played football over the age of most,more then brett f will see but its the love of running that keeps you moveing to get to the next level to compete with the best M 50 RUNNERS IN THE WORLD,hurdles are not easy to do at age 50.

  24. Fidel Banuelos - November 15, 2010

    Good for you for coming back. My reply was about your last line: “just give her time if she loves the sport she will overcome,”

  25. Anonymous - November 15, 2010

    I so masters track so I can check out all the beautiful women athletes!

  26. Noel Ruebel - November 15, 2010

    I appreciate the variety of answers as to why someone competes in Masters Track, so I don’t think there is necessarily a wrong answer. For me, I was a national caliber high jumper in the late seventies and didn’t begin at the masters level until 2008 where I met Bill Daprano, Bill Murray, Richard Watson, Emil Pawlik, Jeff Watry, Kelly Meares, and John Mayor and Alistair Duncan from Great Britain (just to name a few), at the National Masters Decathlon in Joplin, MO. I got into Masters Track because I saw an opportunity to open a new chapter for my love for competition and the sport of Track & Field. I stay in Masters Track because of the people I’ve met from one end of this country to the other, as well as from around the world. I love the competitive spirit, the positive attitudes, and the zest for life that nearly everyone at this level displays. I’ve recruited a few of my friends to join in the fun, and I’m continually singing the praises of the Dapranos, Hewitts, and Pawliks to glorify the benefits of staying active and healthy. You guys and your lovely spouses are the main reason I love this sport and thank you for welcoming me into the gang. See you at the meets!

  27. chuckxc - November 15, 2010

    “@Peter’s “But the spectators can’t do that at Oshkosh.” Do they really love the sport when it depends upon audiences?”

    I love the sport…
    does it matter to me if the stands are empty or if there are thousands cheering…

    HELL, YEA !

    That is a perfectly natural reaction… doesn’t mean someone does not love the sport.

  28. mary Harada - November 15, 2010

    When you get to be my age – the crowd – if there was one – has long gone home by the time I finish!
    Seriously – for older women – it has never been about the crowd, the money etc – as that was never there for us. No doubt for post Title IX women who were stars – it is hard to keep going after the cheering and the money stop. But – for the vast majority of masters in track and field – it has always been about the love of the sport, few are real stars – perhaps some were in high school or even college – but most were middle of the pack or back of the pack folks- having fun, learning a sport, being on a team – in a sport that rarely attracts a big crowd. When was the last time you folks stopped by the local high school x-c race or track meet? The so-called crowd is mostly parents and some of the school kids.

  29. Cornell - November 17, 2010

    Anyone who has ever followed track and field knows that Jearl Miles Clark has always been an outstanding exmaple of class. She is in no way a primadonna but only a hard working successful track and field legend. Go to youtube and check out some of her races and the emotions that follow. Thanks for all the excitement Jearl!

  30. peter taylor - November 17, 2010

    Nicely said, Cornell. Jearl got labeled here as an Olympian who, in effect, doesn’t want to race with the common folk, but that observation about Olympians doesn’t seem to apply to Jearl specifically.

    I met her at the Penn Relays in 2008, as noted, and found her down-to-earth and friendly. Later that day she anchored her masters squad to a world mark, as I said.

  31. keith McQuitter - November 17, 2010

    its nice to have a big stadium full yelling and pennrelays gives you that but being in the decathlon,with other countrys competeing with a small turn out its the challenge of it all,I REMEMBER THE aau days 100 dollers for 1st 50 dollers for 2nd 25 dollers for 3rd you win 3 races you had 300 dollers,but you still had to be a ellete runner,to get in the meet.how did we get from fear coming back to how many peps look at us run,I like the reaction I get when im doing my road work out,sporting my usa gear,anywow,love track we need more masters meets more invitational meets for masters.like milrose ,vitalis,visa,meets

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