Irene Obera won’t be IAAF World’s Best Master Athlete in 2014

San Jose, Costa Rica, stadium hosting NCCWMA meet starting Aug. 21.

World Masters Athletics, like USATF, has a dumb policy on end-of-year awards: Play in our games, or no global honors to your name. That’s the upshot of an email sent by WMA Regional President Sandy Pashkin to USATF Masters Awards Committee chair Mary Trotto and Canadian counterpart Brian Keaveney. Sandy wrote Friday: “Brian and Mary, If Canada or the USA wants to nominate a male and/or a female for the WMA 2014 Best Master Athlete, please use this form. A reminder that they must have competed in Budapest [indoor worlds] or will compete in Costa Rica [WMA regionals]. I can check if someone competed in either meet. The form is due back to me by the 31st of August – no extensions.” Lots of superstar Americans (and Canadians) won’t be able to check either box, including Irene Obera, who didn’t go to Hungary and isn’t entered in the Costa Rica meet in five days. Yeah, I get it. WMA wants to boost its attendance. But how do you keep a straight face if the likes of Incredible Irene aren’t even considered for IAAF kudos? And don’t the Eurovets have an unfair advantage this year — since indoor worlds were in their neighborhood? Why can’t nationals be sufficient? Irene was there.

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August 16, 2014

22 Responses

  1. Rob Jerome - August 16, 2014

    If Irene is out, then Olga Kotelko would be nominated posthumously. She was the undisputed star of Budapest.

  2. Ken stone - August 16, 2014

    Great idea, Rob! Let’s test the plan, Canada, and see if WMA has even the smallest sign of heart or conscience.

  3. Terry Parks - August 16, 2014

    Ken, competing at the world level is entirely different than competing at the Nationals. The preparation is different and the competition is surprising sometimes. I have seen world record holders beaten and people that I have never heard of have amazing performances.

    If you want to be considered the best in the world then you have to compete against the world. Sounds reasonable to me.

  4. Rick Easley - August 16, 2014

    So you are only the best athlete if you have deep pockets and are able to compete at all of the international meets. Yeah, that seems real fair.

  5. Terry Parks - August 17, 2014

    Masters athletes in the US have to travel to compete against the best. There is no requirement that you compete at all international meets this year to be World Masters Athlete of the Year. Indeed, North Americans have a choice of Budapest or Costa Rica. Air travel cost for me from California to North Carolina or to Costa Rica cost about the same. Costs in Budapest were ridiculously less expensive than North Carolina. Costa Rica is a very affordable place to visit for Americans. My point is, that just because you are traveling internationally does not mean that you have spend a fortune.

    As an American masters track athete you know that you have to pay compete against the best. If you wanted to run against the best Ameicans this year you had to travel to NC. If you wanted to run against the best in the World you had to go to Budapest. Costa Rica will not be the same as Budapest, but it is an WMA International meet.

    We had the WMA in Sacramento in 2011 and hopefully we will have another WMA in the US or close by in 2018 or 2020. There are the NCCWMA regionals which are not too far away so there is the opportunity compete internationally.

    We had two North Americans as masters athletes of the year last year, so it can’t be said that the rules make it impossibly hard for North Americans to win this honor. To be World Master Athlete of the year it seems abundantly fair and logically that you have competed internationally at least on the regional level.

  6. Alan Kolling - August 17, 2014

    Irene might have elected to compete in Costa Rica, but we received conflicting advice (from what we considered a reliable source) about its impact on her eligibility for consideration for the award. Nevertheless, she had a very rewarding season and she greatly appreciates the support she has gotten along the way. The challenge now is to persuade her not to hang up her spikes and to go to Lyon next year. And, for what it’s worth, money is an issue for Irene who is a retired schoolteacher, but you wont hear her making any excuses in that regard.

  7. Terry Parks - August 17, 2014

    I hope that Irene goes to Lyon. Since USATF is not helping us maybe we should help ourselves by using crowd sourcing sites like GoFundMe to help raise money. I read about Raven Saunders a high school senior at Burke High School in Charleston, SC using GoFundMe to raise money to go to Eugene, Oregon for the USA Junior Championships. She met her fundraising goal and went to Eugene and made the USA junior team. She eventually won a silver medal for team USA a the World Juniors.

  8. Joseph Burleson - August 17, 2014

    We all understand that the better the competition, the higher the likelihood of a great performance. World-athletes know and appreciate this. Even the rest of us less-gifted understand how our more meager performances can be enhanced by a larger cohort or runners/throwers/jumpers/walkers next to us, pushing each other to higher levels.

    However, to tell a masters athlete who has just recorded a world yearly-best or world record in a smaller (but fully sanctioned) meet that his/her performance does not count toward the highest honor is simply ridiculous. Countless factors might prevent them from traveling at will.

    If an open male athlete recorded a 9.57 in the 100 or a 2.46 in the HJ in an otherwise fully sanctioned/certified, but obscure open meet, does anyone imagine that the performance would simply be ignored in choosing Athlete of the Year?

  9. Alan Kolling - August 17, 2014

    Terry, I plan to do some private fundraising if/when Irene can be persuaded to go to Lyon. I am not sure she would agree to use a website such as the one you suggest,, even though it’s legit. Thanks for the suggestion though.

  10. Rob Jerome - August 17, 2014

    Flo Meiler, who was named USATF Athlete of the Week after her stellar Winston-Salem performance in 14 events (which included a couple of World Records), has told me she plans to go to Lyon.

    If both she and Irene go, next year it will be hard to say who should be nominated Athlete of the Year. An embarrassment of riches in the W80 age group.

  11. Mark Cleary - August 18, 2014

    They want whomever the choose as WMA athlete of the year to have supported at least one of their events I think that’s fair. We do the same thing on the National level. There are many quality athletes up for National recognition and priority goes to those athletes that compete at our Nationals. It think it is reasonable that the organization giving the award should expect that the athlete getting the award is required to compete in at least one of their organizations top events.

  12. Mark Cleary - August 18, 2014

    If Irene would have gone to one of the WMA events this year she would have easily been our athlete of the year that would be submitted to WMA. On an age graded scale and amount of championships won- no one was her equal.

  13. Robert Thomas - August 18, 2014

    In response to Joseph Burleson comments about the comparison to elite athletes performance. If an elite athlete performs a world best or world leading time and does not perform at that level or better during a major championships, they would not receive an athlete of the year award due to not performing at a high level during a major championship. It’s unfortunate that Irene is not eligible for athlete of the year, but there are athletes that don’t perform well under the pressure of a major championship and that’s part of the award. The best athlete of the year. Not just the best performances of the year. The WMA has to have some requirements for the award or there would even less athletes going to the major championships

    I would be honored to make a donation for Irene Obera to compete at next year’s World Championships, a retired school teacher who has had a positive affect on hundreds of young people lives. I think it’s time we payed if forward for her.

    Alan you can find my contact info under the Masters Committee Directory on the USATF webpage under Vice Chair of Masters.

  14. Alan Kolling - August 21, 2014

    Robert, thanks so very much for your very kind offer. I am in Europe presently but will be home in two weeks and plan to discuss the 2015 season with Irene as soon as I get back. She continues to talk “retirement” but is so appreciative of the support she has received this year so hopefully it wont be too difficult to persuade her to stay on.

    What many people dont know is that Irene has been competing actively since 2009. She just didnt seek to compete very far from home. So this year wasn’t really a comeback year for her.

  15. Peter L. Taylor - August 21, 2014

    Alan, I hope that Irene does not retire, as her exciting performances bring a lot of joy to people, me included. I loved announcing her at Boston indoors, and although I struggled on the microphone at Winston-Salem outdoors, it was still a pleasure to announce Irene there and to get my photo taken with her.

    I’ve been looking at the website for the Costa Rica regionals (the meet started today, Aug 21) and will try to give you a report eventually. As you may know, only 608 people signed up, but the more important number to consider is 421, the total for athletes coming in from outside the country. Yes, 187 of the entrants (31%) are from tiny Costa Rica.

    I will be looking at W80 and W75 in particular, as Irene is in W80. Too bad she is missing the meet.

  16. Alan Kolling - August 24, 2014

    Thanks, Peter, I still have to send you the picture! It’s buried away somewhere in my files. Sorry.

    As for Costa Rica, Irene had originally planned to come but was told in the early spring that it would not influence her consideration for IAAF masters athlete of the year, so she changed her mind. It was only when we got to the outdoors that our source “changed her mind” and told us it would matter. As most people know, Irene competes for the sheer joy of it, so losing out on being considered for the award is not a major concern to her. Me? I’m chomping at the bit because of our misplaced reliance on the incorrect information we had been given. But hopefully next year things will be different.

  17. Peter L. Taylor - August 24, 2014

    Thank you so much, Alan. After the meet is over today I will give you a report on the W80 events. Well, wait a second, I think I can give you the report now. I will address the five track events that Irene might have entered:

    100 dash: There was one competitor in W80, Gracia Melendez Nieves. Aided by a wind of 1.6 meters per second, Nieves ran 21.12. As you know so well, Alan, Irene ran 16.81 at Winston-Salem with a slight breeze at her back (+0.5).

    400 dash: No entrants in W80.

    80 hurdles: No entrants in W80.

    200 hurdles: No entrants in W80.

    200 dash: No entrants in W80.

    Thus, Alan, while it would have been a nice trip from California to Costa Rica, I am not sure that Irene would have benefited in any way other than to secure the title of IAAF masters athlete of the year through her presence.

  18. Alan Kolling - August 24, 2014

    Thanks, Peter. Yes, Irene thrives on competition, and enjoys the opportunity to compete against the 70-79 year olds as well whenever the fields for her age group are small because good competition at the 80-84 level is understandably hard to find. That’s why she wanted to run really good times, not “just” break marks for her new age group, this year. So she is very pleased that the year turned out well.

  19. Mark Williamson - August 25, 2014

    Its a WMA thing. Not a best overall thing or USATF or IAAF. So yea its their call to say you need to be in their meet.

  20. Curtis - August 27, 2014

    This is ridiculous. The these should be the requirement.

    1 You are a registered athlete with your national association. End of story.

    Many athletes can’t travel because of work and cost. They should not be expected to travelling all over the world to be nominated best athlete.

    This is crazy

  21. ebgrant - August 28, 2014

    I thinks it’s fair. In order to the be World Masters Athlete of the year, you need to compete against the world, which means attending a least one of the WMA meets. Not fair to collect the WMA award and not even compete in a WMA meet.

  22. Curtis - August 29, 2014

    It would be fair if these athletes were having their costs covered by their national organizations. As maters athletes we need to stop using similar standards that are similar to the open athletes to measure our success. The factors are not the same. So what you are saying is that you can break records in in your local or national competition and then attend one of the world events come dead last and by virtue of the fact that you attended you can are now eligible for international awards? It is silly.

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