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 November 1, 2021, Issue 153


 

University of Oregon track and field athletes speak out about body shaming

Last Monday, Ken Goe broke the story that six former members of the University of Oregon’s track and field team have come forward with allegations of body shaming within the program. If you haven’t already read the article, it’s worth the time. And on Friday, Sarah Lorge Butler reported additional details, with comments from Katie Rainsberger and former Oregon distance coach Maurica Powell, which I appreciated because after reading Goe’s article, I wondered whether these issues were limited to the non-distance events and where the distance coaches stood with regards to these matters.

The details include:

  • The University of Oregon track and field program uses DEXA scans to measure athletes’ body composition, and athletes allege that they were encouraged to lower their body fat percentages at an unhealthy rate and praised when they successfully did so.

  • One athlete said that after the first DEXA scan, the team’s nutritionist told her she couldn’t travel to away meets unless she lowered her body fat to below 12 percent.

  • A second athlete said that she had been amenorrheic for a year and a half and the nutritionist knew that but still encouraged her to lower her body fat from 16 percent to percent.

  • A third athlete said that head track coach Robert Johnson called her over during a workout to ask if she was on birth control, and he said he wanted to know because her hips had gotten wider.

  • Rainsberger told Lorge Butler that due to the program’s overemphasis on weight and body fat, she became amenorrheic, developed disordered eating, and got injured. She said she was praised by a nutritionist when her body fat dropped by six percentage points in a short span of time, despite knowing Rainsberger had stopped getting her period.

  • Rainsberger also alleges that the team’s sports performance coach, Darren Treasure, who also came under fire for his work with the Nike Oregon Project, told her that the NOP athletes had 4 percent body fat, and that was what it took to be an Olympian. Treasure denies this. 

  • Goe reported that the team limits its DEXA scans to three times per year because of the radiation emitted during the tests, but one athlete told Lorge Butler that she was subjected to monthly scans one year. 

Many people have already detailed what’s wrong with all of the above, but I thought this Twitter thread from Steve Magness was particularly good, and David Roche makes some good points in this article. Many accomplished athletes have also responded, including, but not limited to, Allie Ostrander, Stephanie Bruce, Dani Moreno, Erin Teschuk, Tansey Lystad, Lucy Bartholomew, Kara Goucher, Keely Henninger, Cat Bradley, and Sara Hall. (And Amelia Boone did an Instagram live to remind people language matters in discussing these issues.) 

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about since these stories came out:

  • Ken Goe did a great job getting Oregon head coach Robert Johnson to comment on these allegations on the record, but I think Johnson would have been better off had he kept his mouth shut. With his comments, like “Track is nothing but numbers. A good mathematician probably could be a good track coach,” he just dug himself into a deeper hole. 

  • Ashley Brasovan wrote on Instagram, “The worst part of this is that this 100% happens across many other colleges through the U.S. Such a broken system...and a long way to go to fix it.” I’d like to hear more about that, but I think there’s a hesitancy for many people to speak out against their schools, because of how it might hurt them down the road, it’s bad for recruiting, and school pride runs deep, even when the school is flawed.

  • I want to know more about the nutritionist mentioned in the articles. Is there just one? Why is no one using this person’s name? Why is a school that has so many resources working with a nutritionist instead of a registered dietitian? A nutritionist or RD that works with a college program should be the voice of reason, and someone who can be trusted to have the athletes’ best interests, and health, in mind. According to the allegations, that was far from the case at the University of Oregon, which is extremely disappointing.

  • It’s notable that most of the athletes who have spoken out have done so anonymously, because of Nike’s power. One athlete told Goe, “Speaking up against [Johnson] is like speaking up against basically USA Track & Field.” It’s also notable who in the running world has commented on this issue and shared the news, and who has stayed silent. 

  • I spent 14 years in the NCAA in some capacity, and while some of the programs I worked with promoted healthy ideas around weight, body composition, and nutrition, I also saw plenty of instances of such issues being handled very poorly. (I’ve written about my role in this in the past.) But in the eight years since I’ve left the NCAA, there has been so much more education around these topics and how to do better. So while maybe I shouldn’t be, I am always surprised when a supposedly top tier coach seems to be unaware of this information.

  • Over the past week, I’ve seen a fair amount of the sentiment that, “You just don’t get that this is how it works at the elite level.” And maybe that’s how it currently works in some places, but it’s not the way it should be. If you won’t listen to me, a never-elite athlete, on this topic, listen to the athletes whose responses I’ve linked to above, and people like Maddie Alm, who is helping the members of Team Boss fuel toward world class performances. The other assumption I’ve seen is that anyone who is criticizing Johnson’s methods thinks weight and body composition have no bearing on performance. No one is saying that.

  • Will there be any change or consequences for Robert Johnson, the nutritionist(s) who worked with the program, and anyone else who was involved? If nothing else, will the U of O’s recruiting take a hit?

  • Elizabeth Carey has created a coaches’ pledge, co-signed by Melody Fairchild and Kara Bazzi, for running coaches who want to create a healthier sport. And if you’re looking for further education on this topic, Wildwood Running, which was co-founded by former University of Oregon standout Marie (Davis) Markham, has some great resources and workshops.


 

Thanks to Janji for sponsoring Fast Women this month

Janji makes running essentials that support life essentials—2% of sales give back to support clean water projects around the globe. Our current Fall/Winter collection is inspired by the American Southwest with designs from Christian Gering, an artist and mountain runner from San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico. The collection supports the NGO Dig Deep, and their efforts to increase access to running water throughout Navajo Nation.

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Nell Rojas, third from left, runs in a big pack of international runners at the 2021 Boston Marathon.
 

The U.S. world championships marathon squad will be strong, but will it be fair?

In the past, USATF appeared to use descending order lists based on time to select its world championships marathon teams. The fastest athletes within a designated time period would be offered spots on the U.S. team, and if they declined their spots, the spots would go to the next-fastest athletes who wanted them. It’s not a perfect system, because marathons courses, tactics, and conditions vary so much, but at least athletes knew the assignment.

Last week, USATF finally unveiled its selection criteria for the marathon at the 2022 World Championships, which will take place in Eugene, Oregon. They are: First, anyone who finished in the top 10 in the marathon at the Olympic Games will get a spot on the team. Next, the top finishers at the 2021 Chicago, Boston, and New York City Marathons will be offered spots on the team, based on their finish place. If two athletes have the same place, the one with the faster time gets the edge.

So this means that so far, the American runners on the World Championships marathon team will be Molly Seidel (third, Olympic Games, 2:27:46), Emma Bates (second, Chicago, 2:24:20), and Sara Hall (third, Chicago, 2:27:19). If they should decline their spots, next priority would be given to Keira D’Amato (fourth, Chicago, 2:28:22), Nell Rojas (sixth, Boston, 2:27:12), and Maegan Krifchin (sixth, Chicago, 2:30:17). The only way that will change is if a U.S. woman finishes first or second at the New York City Marathon, or the top U.S. woman finishes third there in a time faster than Hall’s 2:27:19.

In the past, quite a few U.S. athletes have given up their spots on the world championships marathon squad, but this year, in part because the race will take place on home soil, these are highly coveted spots. Seidel, Bates, and Hall have all indicated in various places that they would like to run the race, so it’s improbable we’ll see any or many people giving up their spots.

USATF didn’t announce its selection procedures until after three of the four selection races had already taken place. And the Chicago Marathon ended up being the de facto selection race for the World Championships squad, though no one knew it at the time. While the U.S. will wind up sending a strong women’s team, I don’t think the selection criteria are at all fair.

Kellyn Taylor put it well when she tweeted, “It’s a good squad as it stands but the criteria is garbage. You can’t weigh one major equally against another. Chicago notoriously has weak fields w/ this yr being no exception. Fortunately, our depth is quite good so you can be certain we will have a great team.”

I’m with her. Chicago had almost no international depth in its elite field compared to the Boston and New York City Marathons. Nell Rojas ran one of the best fall marathons by a U.S. woman, but it seems highly unlikely she’s going to wind up on the U.S. team. I have no problem with Seidel earning a spot based on her Olympic performance. She’s clearly one of the U.S.’s best marathoners at the moment, if not the best, and she’s a recent Olympic medalist. But in my opinion, Rojas ran a better race in Boston than Hall did in Chicago. Hall is a fantastic runner, but if the criteria are going to select based on strength of fall marathon performance, they should actually do that.

The weather was worse in Chicago, but the course is much tougher in Boston. And Hall had multiple pacers trying to help her run as quickly as possible, while Rojas just raced, on a day that the race went out relatively slowly. Rojas still ran faster than Hall (by seven seconds). Whether they gave Rojas or Hall the edge, I’d like to see the selection criteria reflect the fact that not all third (or whatever) place finishes are equivalent. And what about those who chose not to run a fall marathon or athletes who selected other races? Fortunately most of the top U.S. women at least attempted to run one of the U.S. majors this fall.

There’s no perfect way to select the U.S.’s world championships team, but to dramatically change the selection procedures and then not announce it until after three-quarters of the selection races have already taken place is just wrong. This needed to be announced before athletes selected their fall races, and ideally before the qualifying window opened. This LetsRun piece looks at why the criteria came out so late, but provides few satisfactory answers. 

 

Results Highlights

  • At the National University Women’s Ekiden in Japan, 18-year-old Seira Fuwa ran 28:00 for 9.2K, which is 30:26 10K pace. Brett Larner writes, “You don’t want to read too much into one run, but Japan hasn’t had women this good very often. Maybe never.”

  • After some tough breaks in her recent races, including flying to Germany last month to race 100 miles and having food poisoning take her out of the race before it even began, Camille Herron won the Javelina Jundred 100-mile race in a course record 14:03:23. Herron goes out hard in pretty much all of her races, so it was no surprise to see her do the same in Saturday’s race. But as the race went on, it became clear that she wasn’t just on her way to winning the women’s race, she was also going to be one of the top finishers overall. Herron duked it out with accomplished trail runner Joe McConaughy, and edged him out in the final miles to take fourth overall. And it’s pretty awesome that she finished carrying a lightsaber. The top two finishers received a golden ticket to Western States, but because runner-up Brittany Peterson (15:47:23) already has a spot in the race, the second ticket will go to third-place finisher Tessa Chesser (16:25:05). (Results)

  • Cat Bradley won the accompanying 100K race in 9:45:13. It was a close battle with Brianna Grigsby, who finished just over six minutes back, in 9:51:19. Bradley and Grigsby were third and fourth overall. (Results)

  • Alice Wright, who is coming back from injury setbacks, broke the British one-hour track record on Saturday night in Phoenix. She covered 17,044 meters (5:39/mile), breaking Michaela McCallum’s record of 16,495 meters, pending ratification. (More info)

  • Caitlin Keen, who hadn’t raced since the Olympic Marathon Trials, won the Flying Pig Marathon in 2:43:45.



Mercy Chelangat wins the 2020 NCAA Cross Country title. (Photo courtesy of Alabama Athletics)
 

Collegiate Conference Highlights

It was conference championship weekend for most college teams. Division I teams will now have their regional meets (how they qualify for nationals) on November 12 and the NCAA Championships on November 20. Some highlights from the weekend:

  • Led by Amelia Mazza-Downie’s individual win, the University of New Mexico women, who are currently ranked first in the country, swept the top seven spots at the Mountain West Championships. With 2,000m to go, New Mexico’s coaching staff realized the sweep was possible and from the sidelines, they encouraged the team to see if they could pull it off. (Results)

  • In the very competitive Pac-12 conference, the University of Colorado managed to take four of the top five spots, led by Abby Nichols’ win. Altitude-trained athletes and teams definitely had an advantage in this one, as Utah hosted the event at 4200 feet, and the majority of the schools in the conference are at low altitude. CU won the race 24–52 over Utah. (Results)

  • Reigning NCAA Cross Country champion Mercy Chelangat of Alabama won the SEC Cross Country Championships by almost nine seconds, with NCAA indoor 5,000m champion Joyce Kimeli of Auburn finishing second. Arkansas came into the meet ranked No. 15, but they pulled off a minor upset (rankings-wise, at least) over No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 5 Alabama to win their ninth-consecutive title. (Results)

  • Kelsey Chmiel and Katelyn Tuohy went 1–2, and their NC State team put five runners in the top eight to win the ACC Cross Country Championships 20–87 over the University of North Carolina. (Results)

  • Led by Whittni Orton’s win, BYU’s runners went 1-3-4-5-8 to comfortably win the West Coast Conference Championship 21–64 over Gonzaga. Ruby Smee of the University of San Francisco had a strong performance to finish second, five seconds behind Orton. (Results)

  • Nine months ago, the University of Minnesota’s Bethany Hasz kicked to win the 2020 Big Ten Cross Country title (held in 2021). On Friday, Bethany didn’t have her best race, but she managed to finish ninth, while her twin sister, Megan Hasz, kicked to win the race over Michigan’s Ericka VanderLende. This is a cool video of the sisters’ wins. The Hasz twins’ runs, along with Abby Kohut-Jackson’s seventh-place finish, led Minnesota to a narrow win (72 points) over Wisconsin (78), Michigan State (82), and Michigan (85). (Results)

  • West Virginia’s Ceili McCabe has established herself as a runner to watch this season and she pulled off her third-straight win at the Big 12 Championships, edging three-time champion Cailie Logue of Iowa State by 0.8 seconds. Oklahoma State placed four runners in the top seven and bested Iowa State for the win by only one point. (Results)

  • Taryn O’Neill narrowly held on to win the Big Sky Cross Country Championship, leading NAU to a 37–51 win over Weber State. Close behind were Weber State teammates Billie Hatch and Summer Allen, and Portland State’s Katie Camarena. The top four runners were separated by 3.7 seconds. (Results)

  • Maggie Donahue won the Big East Cross Country title and led Georgetown (64 points) to a narrow win over Butler (67) and UConn (70). (Results)
     


Sanya Richards-Ross in 2008
 

Additional News and Links

  • I was sorry to read that on Sunday morning, 1992 Olympian Judi St. Hilaire, 62, was seriously injured while cycling after a car ran a stop sign. She sustained numerous injuries, but it sounds like she is expected to recover.

  • Olympic shot put silver medalist Raevyn Saunders will not face any sanctions from the International Olympic Committee after she made an X with her arms following her medal ceremony at the Tokyo Games. She did receive a note from the IOC that was essentially a scolding, though. Saunders tweeted, “I truly hope that the IOC hears my message and does understand that it is one in the same with their mission. Bringing people of different paths from all around the world together to celebrate one another for their uniqueness!” This, from last week, is a good piece about Saunders and mental health, and it includes the detail that she recently had surgery on her labrum but she’s hoping to compete in next summer’s World Championships.

  • Also on the topic of mental health, Ce’Aira Brown, who represented the U.S. in the 800m at the 2019 World Championships and is expecting her first child, wrote about being diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and depression.

  • If you read this newsletter closely, you already knew that Rebecca Mehra was moving to Seattle. Last week she announced that she has signed with Oiselle through 2024, and that Sarah and Bob Lesko will coach her.

  • This is a nice article on Edna Kiplagat and her son, who is running high school cross country, and how each has supported the other’s running.

  • Until I read this piece about Weini Kelati, I wondered if she had been injured at the Olympic Trials, but she said that she took a big break because she was mentally and physically tired. The break paid off and now she’s running as well as ever. She’ll have the opportunity to race for her first-ever USATF road title at the 5K championships on Saturday in New York City.

  • The rumors are true. Sanya Richards-Ross will be a part of the cast for season 14 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

  • Viola Cheptoo, a 1:06:47 half marathoner, will make her marathon debut on Sunday in New York while her brother, Bernard Lagat, does commentary on the ESPN broadcast. Lagat said that he’s looking forward to pronouncing the Kenyan runners’ names correctly on the broadcast, which I took to mean that most others are doing it wrong. (Runner’s World)

  • Agnes Tirop received some good coverage from The Telegraph and Spikes, and Mary Ngugi launched the Women’s Athletic Alliance website.

  • After a rough day at the Boston Marathon, Jordan Hasay said on Instagram that we wouldn’t see her on the roads for a while, until her heart and mind were ready, but she has done two low-key races since then. Just over a week ago, she won the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon in 1:20:06 and on Sunday, she paced Lisa Thompson, who is legally blind, to a 1:38 at the Houston Half Marathon.

  • Alli Morgan recently won the Beer Mile World Classic and this article looks at her training and how she got into beer miling. Morgan holds the beer mile world record of 6:16.5, and while that’s incredible, I have to think the women’s beer mile record is a bit soft, given that the men’s record is 4:28.1. The men’s and women’s world records for the beer-free mile are only 29 seconds apart, while the men’s beer mile record is 1:48 faster. There may be reasons that women are less likely to be good at chugging and holding in four beers, and I imagine that, for a variety of reasons, fewer women have tried the event. But someday I expect that someone, the Faith Kipyegon of the beer mile, is going to come along and take that time way down.

  • Amy Yoder Begley is going to be focusing more of her time on the Atlanta Track Club’s elite teams, so the organization is looking for someone to take over their training programs for the non-elite, which also used to be part of Yoder Begley’s job. The job description is here, and I appreciate that the application process involves writing a training plan!
     


Read on for an explanation...
 

Podcast Highlights

  • It was great to hear from Track Girl Summer hosts Natasha Hastings and Kori Carter on Keeping Track. They talked about how TGS came about, Hastings’ experience as a single mother, Carter’s recent diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, and other important topics. Hastings and Carter also interviewed Keeping Track host Alysia Montaño for an episode released last week. The moment when Carter’s dog popped onto the screen, wearing flowers as a tribute to Montaño’s signature look when she was competing, was a highlight.

  • Des Linden said on the Clean Sport Collective podcast that for her to be on the starting line at this weekend’s New York City Marathon her training would have to go perfectly. “If we have any type of hiccup on the way, it’s like we’ve gotta pull the plug here.” It was also interesting to hear her take on Shelby Houlihan’s doping case 37+ minutes into the episode.

  • It’s not easy to interview someone who has been interviewed hundreds of times before, but Dinée Dorame did a fantastic job interviewing Kara Goucher on The Grounded Podcast and it’s worth a listen. 

  • In promoting her new cookbook on the Ali on the Run Show, Shalane Flanagan confirmed that she’ll be starting with wave one, not the elite women, in New York City. That might be a better place for her to run fast, as she’ll have no shortage of company.

  • Australia’s Jess Stenson, who recently ran 2:25:15 to win the Perth Marathon, her first marathon in three years, was on the Inside Running Podcast. She comes on around the 1:32 mark and talks about coming back after having a child. It was interesting to hear that she ran Perth because she couldn’t get into some of the World Marathon Majors, including Chicago.

  • I highly recommend listening to Jacky Hunt-Broersma on Run Hard Mom Hard, it was great to hear from Loyola coach Amy Horst on More Than Running, and Elly Henes was on Convos Over Cold Brew.

Things that made me smile: 

  • Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough jumping in a body of water that doesn’t look so great for swimming after the Toledo women won the MAC Cross Country title

  • Marielle Hall’s Hidden Figures group Halloween costume. Sorry if you missed it because her Instagram story is no longer viewable.

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Next weekend will be an exciting one for racing, with the USATF 5K Championships on Saturday (fields here) and the New York City Marathon on Sunday. There will be a free livestream of the 5K here starting at 8:20 a.m. ET, with a replay for subscribers only. The marathon will be on ABC7/WABC-TV locally and ESPN2 nationally (8:30–12:30). (More info)

Thanks so much to Janji for supporting Fast Women this month and remember to use the code FASTWOMEN to save 20% at janji.com. Thanks, also, to those of you who continue to support this newsletter via Patreon. I hope you have a great week!

Alison

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