My miracle medal of Lahti worlds: an M55 bronze in 4×100

I went to Lahti, my second world masters meet, with modest goals: Run the 100 and 200 with no injuries. Make a height in the high jump. Meet my Eurovet email pals and photog friends. (And cover the historic General Assembly.) Mission accomplished! But I also had a fantasy: Run a relay for Team USA. Turns out my fantasy became a reality — in incredible fashion. I was one of only four American M55 entrants to declare for the sprint relay, joining quarter-miler/javelin thrower Rick Easley of Texas and hurdlers Jim Broun of Florida and Thad Wilson of California. So come Friday afternoon, when USA team manager Phil Greenwald submitted his teams, I was grateful to be on one. But the thrills were only beginning.  Thad and Jim informed me that I would be running anchor. (I would have been happy to be head cheerleader.) So here I was, a 14-flat blogger from San Diego, getting ready to race some of the fastest fiftysomethings in the world. I harbored no ambitions besides moving the stick from Point A to Point B.

YouTube video shot by Olympian Jim Barrineau shows me holding onto third.

Celebrating on behalf of all four of us, I savor my first medal in worlds.

Saturday morning, I learned that among my fellow anchors was a British gent named Stephen Peters — one of the greatest masters sprinters in history. Uh oh. This could be ugly.

Instead of obsessing on how many meters he’d beat me by (even if he started 50 behind me), I had some fun with it, chatting up my prospects for masters immortality by beating a world record holder. Hahahaha. Oh yeah.

Our team gathered at the main stadium a little after 10 a.m. After warming up on our own, we met for jogging baton exchanges. Jim would lead off, followed by Rick and Thad. Rick, however, had been limping the day before after his 400 final, feeling pain from an Achilles’ injury. Thad and Jim both survived the 100-meter hurdles final, taking first and third, respectively. But who knew what issues they’d have?

I was the freshest of all, having not competed since Tuesday (in the high jump). I’d had four days’ rest and plenty of refreshments.

The practice handoffs on the backstretch were just passable. But we were satisfied with the right-left-right-left blind exchanges. Then we moved onto sprint passes, hoping to establish the optimal distance from which to begin our takeoffs. Thad and I tried only twice — the first time with him running up my butt when I took off too late. The second was just right (about 30 feet away), and he called it a day. (Most relay teams also practiced the previous Wednesday morning, but I was at the General Assembly and couldn’t attend.)

So we went to the U.S. section of the stands to watch the women relayists and about 12:10 p.m. regathered at the call room under the stadium, trying to get warm again for the final. (There were no prelims.) 

Although six teams were entered for the M55 4×1, only five started: The Brits, Germans, Aussies, Finns and Team USA. The Russians were a DNS.

I looked at Great Britain’s foursome, which included my photographer friend Tom Phillips, and decided they were the easy favorite. The team included two medalists and the others were sprint finalists. But anything can happen, I reminded myself.

The German team included Dr. Rolf Geese, who a day earlier had set an M65 world record ion the 100-meter hurdles (and in the first days of the meet also set a world record in the decathlon).  It’s OK to drop down in age groups. Rolf was skipping down twice.

As officials lined us all up in running order, I figured any place would be fine with me. I was just delighted to be there. But what studs surrounded me! Suddenly we were marching out to the track, the anchors following  a young woman who had to slow down several times to make sure her crew would keep up.

We were in lane 7, so I eyeballed the point where I’d take off. I confirmed with judge George Kleeman, a world-class official, that I could start my run from within the 20-meter zone. (The plan was to let Thad run a little further than normal and for me to run less.) While the M60s began getting set to race, I took a quick sprint down the curve.

Guess I’m ready.

As the gun sounded, Jim rocketed out to a lead or nearly the lead. I was shocked. He was handing off (efficiently) to Rick in position for us to medal. Then Rick gutted out his leg, later telling me he felt no pain. His handoff to Thad also was smooth.

Thad rounded the turn like a train. In the two videos I saw of his leg (which eventually will be posted online), he was a little behind the Brits. I didn’t notice his relative position, since I was focusing on only two things: staying on the outside of my lane and getting the baton before the end of the zone.

As Thad hit the line marking the acceleration zone, I took off. A second later, he yelled stick, and slapped it square in my palm. No hesitation or Olympic-style bungling. He yelled, “Go, go!” and I went, went. As fast as my skinny legs could carry me.

By this point, I knew a medal was possible. The Brits were out of sight, but the Finnish team, in lane 2 or 3, was about five meters ahead at the turn.  I had no idea where the Aussies or Germans were. The video shows me racing in slo-mo. But I didn’t lose ground to the Finns, it turns out. And the last two teams weren’t close to passing me.

The American section of the stadium, just short of the finish line, yelled its support, but I couldn’t hear them. I yelled myself as I crossed the line, a little ragged but upright — with baton safe in my possession.

Then I did something REALLY dumb.  Amid my happy hollering, I tossed my WMA-issued baton way up in the air. It may have gone 30 feet. Something in my addled brain told me to keep it straight — and to catch it. Which I did (to my surprise).

Immediately, a guy with a grocery-style plastic basket collected my baton. And seconds after that, an official wisecracked something about my being a good quarterback — praise for my precise throwing. After a minute or so, I learned that had I dropped the baton,  our team could have been disqualified. The IAAF rule applies in WMA — throw the stick, and your team is out. It’s meant to deter the angry hurling of batons by upset sprinters. But it applied to happy relayists as well.

But the bronze was ours!  And I made a contribution: Staying upright with sticky hands.

Soon we fast friends adjourned to the covered outdoor cafe next to the sports hall 150 meters from the stadium, where Thad bought me a ballpark-style beer (foamy in a clear plastic cup) and all four of us toasted, “Miracles, friends and USA.”  I sipped the most delicious brew of my life.

Maybe a half-hour later, after reporting to the awards tent, we prepared to step up on the medal stand. Rick took off his USA overshirt so I could wear it — and be color-coordinated. (My dark-blue singlet would clash with the USA-on-white tops worn by my teammates.)

Finally we were on the stand — not unfamiliar to Thad and Jim but (in worlds) a whole new experience for me. A young gentleman draped the medals around our necks and shook our hands. (Later relayists got European-style double kisses from young ladies.) But I didn’t think of that as a recording of “God Save the Queen” was played.  Of course, the UK national anthem melody is the basis for “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” — and Team USA quietly sang part of that familiar tune.

Photos were taken, and we stepped down. I brought the medal closer to my face for an inspection and was suddenly seized by moist emotion. I covered my face, attracting the attention of Steve Peters and other Brits, who gently put arms around me. This was simply too awesome an experience — winning a medal at worlds! Dieter Massin, the Eurovets president who I criticized in my presidential election report, wrapped his arms around me and gave me a nearly suffocating bear hug. Seemed to last 30 seconds.

I regained my composure. Then I regained my street clothes and camera bag.

Off to shoot the 4x4s, and witness world records, incredible running and other athletes experiencing the miracle of masters track and field.

Tom Phillips, who ran for the M55 gold-medal relay British, took this photo of me.

Print Friendly

August 11, 2009

51 Responses

  1. Mary Woo - August 11, 2009

    Ken-
    thanks for sharing! Congratulations!

  2. Kettrell - August 11, 2009

    I love it KS. Congrats

  3. Michael Daniels - August 11, 2009

    Great story Ken. When you said you threw the baton in the air, I held my breath until I read next that you caught it. If you had not caught it I think this great story would have been much shorter but still fantastic.
    Plus running anchor or first leg there is less chance of dropping the stick on a hand-off as you only change hands once. Great Story! Better than a video.

  4. Doug Smith - August 11, 2009

    Superb story and finish, Ken, and congratulations to you and your teammates! If you had not been there, they would not have been able to compete, and the USA would not have been in that event.

  5. John Seto - August 11, 2009

    Ken,
    Thanks for sharing. We are so proud to have you representing us on the world podium. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

  6. Rita Hanscom - August 11, 2009

    Fabulous story, Ken, and well-written. You need to submit this to Sports Illustrated, Time, Newsweek, etc. This is the type of story that opens the eyes of people who have no idea about masters track, the thrill and glory of competing and the friendships that await.
    And while I’m at it, thank you for the wonderful things you do for us, the photography, the reporting, and for a story like this, which reminds us all why we love this sport. -Rita

  7. Tom Phillips - August 11, 2009

    Ken,
    This is a fabulous piece of writing. Thanks so much. I was there, and I can vouch for every word – though I’ve yet to see the videos to see how close Thad was to me on the third leg of the relay! The end-note about throwing the baton is priceless!
    Your emotion at the medal ceremony touched many of us deeply. Don’t forget that you earned that medal every bit as much as the other eleven of us who were on the rostrum at the ceremony. It was a pleasure to work and race alongside you in Lahti. Keep the memories alive!
    Tom

  8. Greg Theologes - August 11, 2009

    Kenny! That is just awesome, my man…Awesome!! Congratulations!

  9. Greg Theologes - August 11, 2009

    Oh yeah, that baton throwing thing…got to be careful with that. High school relay teams get DQ’d every year for throwing a baton to celebrate. Stupid rule, but a rule none the less.
    Congratulations, again!

  10. Liz Palmer - August 11, 2009

    Wonderful! Congratulations!

  11. Barry Warmerdam - August 11, 2009

    Nice work Ken and M55 team!

  12. David E. Ortman (M56) Seattle, WA - August 11, 2009

    For the “record,” I could not locate any penalties in the USAT&F rules (or masters rules) for throwing a baton after a race. However, you may be subject to disqualification for unsportsmanlike conduct under Rule 145.2.
    USAT&F Rules (which covers Masters) may be downloaded at:
    http://www.usatf.org/about/rules/2009/2009USATFRules.pdf
    For more interesting comment on USAT&F Rules see:
    http://www.geocities.com/ortmanmarchand/fsd.html

  13. Thad Wilson - August 11, 2009

    I would like to add some amplification to Ken’s recollection of the M55 4X100 relay. This was also my first relay at the World Championship level. The last serious relay I ran in was in 1969 when I was the leadoff guy for my high school 880 yard relay team. I think I was just as nervous as Ken about getting the baton from “point A to B”. After the second practice exchange, which went real smooth, I called it quits because I didn’t want to try to get it too perfect and screw it up during the race.
    As Ken mentioned, he is not the fastest guy on the team. Rick, Jim, and I talked about what order would be best for us. Jim volunteered for leadoff citing that he had run that leg in college; Rick wanted a straightaway to lessen the impact on his sore Achilles tendon. I don’t mind running the curve so that left the anchor position to Ken. Jim, Rick, and I were hoping to get a lead and make Ken run like hell to hold it. He did.
    I think I was in second place when I passed the baton to him. The British team was in the lead and the Finnish team passed us at the exchange. We were in third. I remember shouting at Ken to “Go! Go!”. At about 50 meters from the finish I realized that he was not gong to be caught by the runners behind him. I started saying to myself “We’re going to get a medal. We’re going to get a medal!
    Over the years the four of us had been in competition against each other, but Saturday afternoon we became teammates. I had stood on the medal stand the day before for my 100 hurdles award, but being on the stand with my three teammates was just as rewarding. For the record, I did buy Ken a beer after the race, but the suggestion to retire to the beer garden made by Jim Broun.
    Thad

  14. WMarshall - August 11, 2009

    Great job in Lahti Ken. It was a pleasure meeting you.

  15. Jameson Wells - August 11, 2009

    I enjoyed your story.Congratulations.

  16. Linda Cohn - August 11, 2009

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS!! Ken you really do have your “finger on the pulse of our sport”! All of us involved with masters track and field can feel our hearts swelling with pride (and all of the other emotions) that you triggered with your words. I agree 100% with Rita’s suggestion, and want to add my thanks to you for all your efforts on our behalf. You truly enrich the lives of all of us who are proud to be considered masters athletes.

  17. G Dixon - August 11, 2009

    WOW !

  18. Jerry Wojcik - August 11, 2009

    Great story, well-written, worthy of a full page in the old NMN.

  19. Doug Thompson - August 11, 2009

    Thanks Ken, that was great to read. I wish I’d been able to stay to see you run.

  20. Jimson Lee - August 11, 2009

    Congrats Ken! Great story!
    This is what Masters Track is all about.
    I love it. See you in Sacto 2011.

  21. Jim Broun - August 11, 2009

    What a wonderful experience…and truly a team effort. Thanks to all and I agree, that was the best beer ever and a time of fellowship and fun!

  22. Karla Del Grande - August 11, 2009

    Wonderful story! I’m in full agreement with Rita and Linda that this captures the essence of Masters Track — the joy of competing as well as the joy of the friendships made. The emotion you felt when receiving your medal shows your passion for the sport, which has always been apparent in your work on this blog and in your photos. Congratulations to you and your team on your fine run and your medal!

  23. Annelies Steekelenburg - August 11, 2009

    Ken, your story made me laugh and cry.
    And thanks for sharing the Games with us from beginning to end.

  24. Mike Shiaras - August 11, 2009

    Hey Doug: Give me a shout when you get back to Arizona. I lost your contact info. Mike

  25. Mike Shiaras - August 11, 2009

    Ken: Great story. Really enjoyed your reports from Finland. I got up early on Saturday just to check the result of the 4 x 100! Well done. Mike
    P.S. Now if someone could just show me how to leave the above omment to Doug only once instead of in triplicate.
    MS

  26. Cheryl - August 11, 2009

    Good job..can’t wait to see the video!

  27. Anonymous - August 11, 2009

    thouroughly enjoyed this. Thanks
    But i cant make up my mind which is better,
    the story itself or the way you tell it
    Either way a job well done and you should be proud!

  28. al cestero - August 11, 2009

    congrats to all who participated. i thoroughly enjoyed all the news and was with you all in spirit.what a great story. for whatever reason , relays always seem to manufacture an adrenaline like no other…from the very first i ran in 1966 in sixth grade to the hurdle relay at orno ’07 . what a thrill it must have been to pull off a bronze medal winning at the worlds. ken , this blog is very special. you are a catalyst that bond usa masterstrack. i felt as if i were there every day, reading and checking results.sure there are some that see things differently, but you give us all a voice. once again, to all usa masters that participated , congratulations…to my fellow m55 jumpers and hurdlers… god bless…albert

  29. pino pilotto - August 11, 2009

    Congratulations Ken
    and thanks so much for this story.
    You are also THE anchorman in masters-athletics-blogs!
    pino

  30. Andrew Hecker - August 11, 2009

    About a dozen years ago I remember a similar story that was a highlight of my masters career. I was asked to join a relay team at the National Championships. The team was originally pieced together by members from four different Associations, all of whom had been early active members of the master’s track internet discussions. The multi-association configuration was against the USATF rules at the time. We weren’t allowed to enter. At the last minute, we had to scramble to put together a team of people from the same region. That team of Frank Little, Neal Bojko, KEN STONE and myself (running under the banner of “Webmaster TC”) not only got into the race, but three mediocre sprinters got the stick around the track efficiently to our much mor accomplished anchorman and defeated our formidable, well-practiced, competition by .05 to win the National Championships 4×100.
    Good to see that luck returns to you.

  31. david ashford - August 12, 2009

    To Jim, Thad, Rick ,and man of Stone, as us younger masters runners would say you have affirmed Ken is a real banger, way to go
    team usa I am so proud to say I witnessed a remarkable feat congrats too all ,and to Ken you got it done ,you are one of the best in the world.
    p.s ok guys you got time before Sacremento,to work on relay exchanges.
    Dave Ashford team USA

  32. Peter Chen - August 12, 2009

    I’ve never met Ken but have enjoyed his spirit for our sport. What a richly deserved medal and a wonderfully told story. Bravo!!

  33. Rick Easley - August 12, 2009

    Ken
    This was certainly the highlight of my time in Finland. Have you taken the medal off yet? Enjoy this and maybe we can make it happen again some time.

  34. Doug Thompson - August 12, 2009

    Mike,
    I don’t know how to reply only to you, but my email address is divanthompson@gmail.com and my phone # is 602 690-6964. I still have your Dartmouth newspaper photo…
    Doug

  35. Lonnie Hooker - August 12, 2009

    Ken,
    Congrats to you and the entire relay team. Your story is what Masters Track is all about. There is something truly special about running a relay. I can’t wait to see the video of the baton toss and catch. Thanks for all you do in the name of Masters Track.
    God Bless You,
    Lonnie

  36. Francoise Barnes - August 12, 2009

    Congratulations to you Ken, I had “wetness” in my eyes as I read your story!
    Way to go, so happy for you!
    Thank you ever so much for the beautiful job you do on this masters’ blog for all of us.
    All my best to you and….
    KEEP TRAINING, why not a 2nd one?

  37. Eric Negley - August 12, 2009

    Congrats Ken. It seems you saved your best story from Lahti to last! Well earned medal indeed. Thanks for keeping all of us posted on the exploits and successes of our USA Masters and fellow athletes and friends from Worlds in Lahti. Eric

  38. Mickey Miller - August 12, 2009

    I think you earned yourself a new nickname Ken,
    ANCHORMAN!!
    Great Story!

  39. Cheryl - August 12, 2009

    Ken it was really scary you watching you throw the baton.

  40. Matthew Spiller - August 12, 2009

    Great Job Ken!!!!
    Great write up too!

  41. Klaus-Peter Neuendorf - August 12, 2009

    I was also part of this historic event and can add some more detailed information also on times the athletes achieved in their previous events in Lathi I have investigated from the result lists. Even if we Germans this time could not reach the medal stands we had the best improvment of our single results and best of all we got our bronce medal in the 4×400.

    M55 4 x 100 m                       Final Stadion
    1. Great Britain & NI GBR                            47,41
    Walwyn Franklyn 52 	12,36
    Geoff Walcott				13,00 (estimated) (26,44 200m)
    Tom Phillips 54			12,15
    Stephen Peters 53		11,57
    -------
    49,08
    2. Finland FIN                                       50,26
    Seppo Sovio 51				14,00 (estimated) (17,28 100m Hü -1,8 W)
    Mauri Lyytikäinen 50  12,50 (estimated) (25,44 200m)
    Arto Miikkulainen 53  13,50 (estimated) (16,41 100m Hü -1,8 W)
    Markku Rautasalo 54   13,24 (-1,8 ZK)
    -------
    53,24
    3. United States USA                                 50,96
    James Broun	51			13,30 (estimated) (16,17 100m Hue -1,8 W)
    Ricky Easley	54		13,50 (estimated)	(1.00,32 400m)
    Thaddeus Wilson 50	12,40 (estimated)	(15.28 100m Hue -1,8 W)
    Kenneth Stone 54		14,08 (+0,5 W Head)
    -------
    53,28
    4. Germany GER                                       51,62
    Rolf Geese 44							13,83 (-0,6 W ZK)
    Klaus Peter Neuendorf	54	13,83 (-1,8 W ZK)
    Gerd Lipinski 52          14,50 (-1,3 W ZK)
    Winfried Heckner 50				12,95 (+0,8 W SF)
    -------
    55,11
    5. Australia AUS                                     52,10
    Bob Pearce	52 				14,00 (estimated)	(1.04,65 400m)
    Stephen Baird 51			13,30 (+08 W SF)
    Wayne Marriott 54			13,23 (VL +2,2 W)
    Conrad Burge					no result in singles
    Russia RUS                                          DNS
    Igor Vakin
    Ivan Shalaev
    Nikolay Pushilin
    Alexey Krivonosov
    Klaus-Peter Neuendorf
    World Champion in Decathlon M45 1999 and 2001 and in Lahti only beaten by the incredible strong great American sportsman Bill Murray who won 8 out of 10 disciplines in the decathlon M55.
    
  42. Klaus-Peter Neuendorf - August 12, 2009

    I like to add two explanations to my last comment.
    1. ZK is the abbrivation for Zehnkampf i.e. decathlon and Hue stands for hurdles.
    2. The time below the team is the sum of the times for the team members in the individuell single events (some times estimated from 200m, 400m or hurdles).

  43. Tom Phillips - August 13, 2009

    Klaus Peter,
    Interesting figures, but something’s wrong somewhere – we were all aged 55 or above. I can see what you were trying to show, but when teams run athletes who didn’t race over 100m in the championships, it’s perhaps a little artificial, because it involves guessing. Geoff Walcott, second leg runner on our (GB)squad, hasn’t run a 100m for two years. Unfortunately, some of the 100m finals in Lahti also had winds above the allowable limit.
    Nevertheless, it was unusual not to see a German team amongst the medals in our age group. I’m sure you will be aiming to alter that by the time next year’s EVACS championships arrive!

  44. Anonymous - August 13, 2009

    To Ken and his USA M55 4 x 100 m team mates.
    Ken, You are a good baton thrower (maybe the best), Rick Easley is a very good javelin thrower; So i think that Jim Broun and Thad Wilson should also be good throwers (hurdles?).
    I am Swiss (Switzerland is a little country in Europe) and a mediocre thrower, but I will try to put together four M55 team mates for a 4 x 100 m SUI for Sacramento 2011 and then …

  45. pino pilotto - August 13, 2009

    ooops!
    I forget to write my name, sorry!

  46. Klaus-Peter Neuendorf - August 13, 2009

    Thank you Tom, I adjusted my comments to make them more complete. You can see them here
    http://www.zehnkampf-life-style.de
    Search the german text for
    “THE 4x100m RELAY STORY (supplemented by kp)”

  47. Sully - August 13, 2009

    Ken,
    Great 3rd exchange…way to go Ken…..
    Sully

  48. Keith Mathis - August 14, 2009

    Great Job on anchor–this is what we all strive for–what a thrill!!! You are the man.

  49. Ken Stone - November 3, 2009

    See photos of me at Lahti here:
    http://www.masterstrack.com/gallery/main.php?g2_itemId=42074
    Special thanks to Marilyn Mitchell, who took the relay shots, and Lesley Richardson, who snapped me in the 100 and 200.

  50. bryan shilcutt - July 31, 2010

    dear mr stone,

    can you please help me ascertain whether or not they may be some Masters track meets in or near Oxord (or London), England during the Spring of 2012 in which I might compete.

    thank you,

    bryan shilcutt
    abilene, tX

  51. Duncan Payne - July 13, 2011

    Hello Mr. Stone,

    Congrat on earning your medal.

    I thought it would of interest to you.
    My name is Duncan Payne, and I am Deaf.
    I competed in the Men 50 Decathlon at SAC CITY last week (6 & 7 July).
    I am also will be competing in Men 50 Weight / Throw Pentathlon at SAC STATE this Saturday (16 July).
    I notice I am only USA Men 50 enter both Decathlon and Weight / Throw Pentathlon.

    Again congrat on you medal.

    Duncan

Leave a Reply