Huffington Post shines a spotlight on masters track superstars

Meredith Melnick, a 29-year-old writer for Huffington Post, discovered the story of R. Laurence Macon, who at age 66 ran 113 marathons in 2011. Curious about what other old folks are doing, she contacted me. The result is this story about “7 Senior Fitness All-Stars Who Stay Competitive.” Meredith writes for the Healthy Living section of HuffPost, which has more online readers than The New York Times. So this is great. I suggested some names of people to include — Willie Gault, Phil Raschcker, Ed Whitlock and Don Pellman, for example. Meredith featured them in a slide show. She also linked to my site. Thanks, MM!

Don Pellman, Phil Raschker and Olga Kotelko get HuffPost love this week.

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January 8, 2012

19 Responses

  1. peter taylor - January 8, 2012

    Thanks to Ken Stone for running with this, and thanks to Huffington Post for putting it out there for all to see. Masters T&F has indeed gotten a lot of publicity over the last few years, but what have the effects been in terms of participation at national meets?

    Can masters T&F in the United States snap out of its lethargy and put up some big attendance numbers? Will athletes be rushing to their computers in the next several weeks to enter the Bloomington indoor champs? And this summer, will there be a big run on tickets to Chicago O’Hare airport by athletes anxious to go to Lisle (Illinois) for outdoors?

    There seems to be nothing big in 2012 other than indoors and outdoors for our athletes to target, and on the surface it seems reasonable to predict big turnouts.

    And yet we haven’t been getting them. For example, in the 1989-2000 period, when masters T&F was little more than a secret, 3 of the 12 outdoor championships (25%) exceeded 1400 entrants, as pitiful as that number is.

    After the 2000 meet, only 1 national outdoors out of 11 (9%) managed to break 1400 (that was Sacramento in 2010). In other words, the numbers have not been there and in some ways are getting worse. In one meet we didn’t even break 825.

    Too bad we can’t afford to have a marketing research group (either inside or outside USATF) determine why our turnouts are so modest. Is there some systemic problem? Is it cost? Boredom? A sense that the meets are a waste of time? I don’t know.

    I look at 2012 as a test year. If we can’t get 950 for indoors and 1500 for outdoors there should be a special task force to investigate why. There are many thousands of masters athletes out there; the problem is that most don’t go to nationals. But why do they stay home?

  2. Karl Hawke - January 8, 2012


    A big 2012 target for some athletes might be World Indoors in Finland, which could compromise the numbers for Bloomington, since Worlds comes so quickly after Nationals.

  3. peter taylor - January 9, 2012

    Thanks, Karl, I forgot all about the World Indoors in Finland, as you can see. I am guessing that it will get about 275 U.S. athletes — does that sound about right? Some of these competitors will have gone to Bloomington, of course. Still, I do think that Bloomington SHOULD be able to get 1000 athletes, which is far different from saying that it WILL.

    My arguments above were stimulated in part by the attendance at Senior Games in Humble, Texas, last year, a meet that came before our Worlds in Sacramento. Some might say that an emphasis on the stars who competed at Senior Games overlooks the issue of depth, and so I compared our nationals at Berea to Senior Games for the 6th-place finishers.

    There is no doubt that Senior Games was hurt by being before Worlds (competitors had to avoid injury before “the big meet”) and by being at a high school facility. Nevertheless, on the one comparison I did, the 100-meter dash, the results were embarrassing.

    The 6th-place time at Senior Games was superior to the 6th-place time at Berea for 8 age groups (defined by age and sex), while in another 6 age groups there was not even a 6th place at Berea. In just 1 age-sex group was the mark for Berea superior to Humble. For the 16th group (85-89 for women) neither site had a 6th place.

    Thus, the final result was 14-1 in favor of Senior Games, even though that meet had some rain for at least some of the sprints, was at a high school facility, etc. Berea, in contrast, had good weather for sprinting and a world-class track. Oh, well.

  4. Rob D'Avellar - January 9, 2012

    That’s a great Huffington Post article.

    However, one of the downsides of focusing just on star athletes in published articles is that such articles may actually discourage run-of-the-mill athletes from competing in national championships.

    Some interesting pyscho-social research is summarized in a book called “The Masters Athlete” edited by Joseph Baker.

    The research shows that, while accomplished Masters Athletes are seen as positive role models for younger athletes, their function as role models for their own peer group is more complex.

    For some of their peers, the accomplishments of star Masters Athletes are actually seen as disincentives to compete. In surveys, some peers registered that they could never hope to match the accomplishments of the stars, so why try?

    It’s important for Masters Athletics to get publicity, but to increase the number of competitors in the sport, in addition to profiling the star athletes, it is important to profile less accomplished athletes who compete just for the fun of it or to stay fit.

    Readers who are toying with the idea of competing in Masters might be more encouraged to join the sport if in addition to reading about the stars, they could read about people just like them…sports-minded but not stars.

  5. Mary Harada - January 9, 2012

    WMA Finland meet may be a big stretch for many – and so far it is a mystery as to how to enter. There is no indication on the USATF website that one should enter using the WMA LOC website – and nothing on the USATF website saying that we enter via USATF – which historically has been the method. The deadline for entry is February 12th. Has anyone entered? How would we know? Will we be sending over two team managers to manage just a handful of USA masters?
    I suggested on an earlier post that we enter via the LOC website and was shot down by someone who apparently knows more than I do – who said that is not the case that we enter via the USATF website. IF we enter via USATF – when will they put up anything? IF not – how about putting up a message to that effect. It is now Jan 9th – new years holiday is over – just over 4 weeks until the deadline.
    If folks are not entering the Nat Masters meet – and that entry process is up on the website – then how many will enter a meet for which the entry process is a mystery?
    And I agree with Rod- nice PR for the few and the famous – but that is not what gets folks off the couch and onto the track.

  6. Warren Graff - January 9, 2012

    Mary (and others interested in entering the WMA Indoor meet in Finland) – I found this link on USATF
    and yes, the deadline is approaching quickly

  7. Weia Reinboud - January 9, 2012

    And there is an online entrance page on the Jyväskylä site:

  8. Bubba Sparks - January 9, 2012

    Back to Peter’s comments, which as always are accurate and fair; it seems ironic that expense is the main reason I hear of people not going to nationals yet many of us go to the WMAs and NSGs. That begs the question; “Why are we willing to travel there but maybe not USATF?” Last year I went to Indoors, NSG, WMA, and Outdoors. This year I probably wont do any. It’s a tradeoff I guess. WELL, and I turn 60 about three weeks before WMAs in Brazil in 2013.

    BTW – Anybody see the overlap of WMA, WMG, NSG and USATF outdoors next year? We will be lucky to hit two because of poor scheduling.

  9. Jerry Smartt - January 11, 2012

    Looks as if Olathe is too close to Worlds for me. Too bad because I live nearby.grrrrr I’ll be in Brazil on July 22nd. July 21st is final day of Nationals. Bummer. Smartty

  10. peter taylor - January 11, 2012

    Sorry, Jerry, that I won’t be seeing you in Olathe in 2013. Of course, I’m not sure that I will be there either. Yes, the scheduling looks very tight, and that will be a problem.

    Bubba, thank you for your kind words. Yes, it is interesting that people will flock to Senior Games while ignoring nationals. I took another look at the 100-m dash for last year’s Sr Games, and it was quite revealing.

    In all, there were 14 women in the W70 dash and 18 women in W75. For the men, there were 25 in the M70 100 and 22 in M75. But some might say, so what?

    Well, 16% of the women were current members of the US Masters Hall of Fame. Wow. The men included superstar and Hall of Famer Bob Lida, superstar Bobby Whilden, Hall of Famer Harry Brown, and many-time Penn Relays winner Alby Williams. Of the 25 men in M70, 13 (52%) broke 16.00 seconds.

    Let’s see …14 + 18 + 25 + 22 = 79. In contrast, Berea, our nationals, appears to have had a total of 23 competitors in these age groups. So the question remains: how did the Senior Games become so much more popular than our nationals while attracting so many of our stars?

  11. Oscar Peyton - January 11, 2012


    A note about the Senior Games: It is patterned behind the actual Olympic Games. There is an opening ceremony, entertainment, a village set up filled with health, food and product venders to purchase and sample. They put a lot of effort in designing the medals for awards with year and place on them. They don’t award the exact medals year after year as USATF does. Elite athletes are not happy about that.

    Finally, you are representing your state at the Senior games. Some states provide incentives to there athletes to participate.

    They make you feel appreciated at the National Senior Games.

  12. peter taylor - January 12, 2012

    Well said, Oscar. I have never been to Sr Games, but it sounds like there is a lot to offer.

    You won the M55 100 dash in the 2011 Sr Games, and thus I took a look at that event. There were 27 competitors in the quarterfinals, and a gentleman named Samuel Prabhakar, representing Minnesota, took 12th.

    What was his time …16, 17 seconds? No, he ran 13.80 FAT, just 2.36 seconds above the world record of 11.40 that Bill Collins set at the 2008 Penn Relays.

    Mr. Prabhakar was eliminated in the semifinals, as there was just too much speed at Sr Games for him. Now, what about Berea, our national championships with its world-class track? Well, only 11 men showed up for the trials in the M55 100, and thus I can’t even compare 12th place.

    I do know that your winning time at Sr Games was faster than the first-place time in Berea. In addition, every M55 finalist at Sr Games ran 13.53 or better, which could not be said for Berea.

    I concur with you, Oscar, that the environment of the Sr Games must be attractive to a lot of people. In addition, the joy/pride in representing your state seems to mean a lot. Masters T&F has some of that with clubs, but in Sr Games EVERYONE gets to represent a state.

    Next year it will be outdoor nationals in Olathe, Kansas, vs. Sr Games in Cleveland. How is that matchup going to work out?

  13. peter taylor - January 12, 2012

    Sorry, I meant to say that Bill Collins ran 11.44 at Penn for a world record, not 11.40 as above.


  14. Dave Hockersmith - January 12, 2012

    I have to agree with Oscar’s comments. This past year’s meet in TX had some issues and felt a bit isolated since the location wasn’t in the same place as the rest of the Senior Games. However, the previous meet held 2 years ago at Stanford was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was very well organized, run right on time and the officials treated everyone with a great deal of respect. They made you feel that it was an accomplishment just to represent your state.

  15. Oscar Peyton - January 12, 2012

    You are right about the isolation Dave. Texas was the worst Senior Games competition that I have been part of and I have been to five. By the way Pete, we were faced with the worst head winds in Houston that I have experieced in my entire T&F career. The wind greatly affected our times.

  16. peter taylor - January 12, 2012

    Oscar, those headwinds make the times at 2011 Sr Games even more impressive. Even the oldsters did well. You inspired me, Oscar, to look at the M80 results at Sr Games.

    There were 20 men in the quarterfinals in the M80 100 at 2011 Sr Games. Even the man who finished 11th in the quarters managed a sparkling 18.29 seconds. The leader in the quarterfinals was none other than the preternaturally fast Masters Hall of Famer Harry Brown, who tore off a 15.64 in qualifying for the semifinals.

    At Berea they did not bother with quarterfinals or even semifinals, as the M80 field was so small. In the final, only 4 men broke 20.00 seconds despite a modest tailwind (+0.8 mps).

    Would sure be nice to get some of those lightning-quick 80+ gents from Sr Games to run in our master nationals. Who knows, we might even have to run trials.

  17. John Altendorf - January 12, 2012

    I would happily attend each indoor and outdoor championships if it weren’t so damned expensive and difficult to transport my pole bag. I figure it will cost at least $800 to go to Indoors. Probably the same or more to go to Outdoors. As for World Indoors, if I’m going to Europe I want to take my wife and spend some extra time there. I figure that would cost me over $5000. And the logistics would even be simplified because I have learned I could borrow some poles at the event.

    When I can drive to a national or world championship site in a day (~600 miles), I’ll likely do it. Driving means I don’t have to deal with all the complications of transporting my pole bag. As might be the case with many of us, if I had a sponsor that would put up even half of my travel cost, I would be happy to attend all the national championships.

    When it costs a lot (I realize that is relative term) it is hard for me to justify making the trip even if I feel I could do well. I enjoy seeing my vaulting friends when I do go but the time is so brief it hardly feels worth it.

    So that is this athlete’s reasons for showing up or not. Of course my opinion is worth about the same as a gold medal if I were to win one, it and about $2 will get me a strong cup of coffee.

  18. Oscar Peyton - January 13, 2012

    I don’t know how the winds affected the 65 and older groups as they competed a week later than we did. There are so many participants in T&F that they choose to separate age-group competitions by week. Unfortunately, I don’t get the opportunity to see the older athletes compete.

  19. peter taylor - January 13, 2012

    Well, Oscar, I’m not even concerned about the wind. In the 5-year period of 2007-2011 we had a total of 22 sprinters compete in the M80 100-m dash in our outdoor nationals. In not one of those years was there a trial.

    By comparison, in 2011 there were, as noted, 20 men in the M80 group at Sr Games, and they had quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals.

    How did the finals turn out?

    At Berea, the times of the six finalists ranged from 16.42 to 26.36 seconds. At Sr Games, the times of the eight finalists ranged from 15.33 for Hall of Famer Harry Brown to 18.20 for the man who was dead last.

    One has to wonder when one reviews data such as this.

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