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Diane Nukuri-Iowa
©Boston Herald

Former Hawkeye Diane Nukuri Wins Falmouth

Diane Nukuri-Iowa ©Let's Run

Diane Nukuri-Iowa
©Let’s Run

A dramatic series of events played out here at the 43rd New Balance Falmouth Road Race, leading to a finish that will be talked about for years.

In a nail-biting sprint to the line, Stephen Sambu retained his title in the 7-mile (11.3 km) race over a pack of three, crossing the finish in 32:17. Minutes earlier, Diane Nukuri of Burundi had won the women’s race going away in 36:47, a solo effort for nearly four miles.

Courtesy Race Results Weekly/Chris Lotsbom

Waiting steps from the finish line, Nukuri watched as the event’s new Countdown Clock ticked down to three seconds when Sambu broke the tape. Since it hadn’t hit zero, the Kenyan earned the inaugural Countdown gender challenge title and its $5000 bonus. On a picture-perfect day, race organizers could not have asked for a better finish.

After roughly a ten-minute delay due to a medical emergency along the course, the elite women took off from Woods Hole bound for Falmouth Heights. Within the first 30 seconds, Nukuri was out front pressing the pace. After being out-kicked for first at the TD Beach to Beacon 10-K two weeks ago, Nukuri didn’t leave anything to chance here, taking with her Americans Amy Cragg and Sara Hall, as well as Ethiopian Sentayehu Ejigu.

By the mile mark adjacent to Nobska Light, an iconic lighthouse, the quartet were roughly 30 meters up on the rest of the field, a margin that would increase to 24 seconds by two miles (10:25). In her own zone, Nukuri looked like a metronome in front: head bobbing ever so slightly, looking a bit like Paula Radcliffe in her prime. Her arms churned methodically; her eyes were focused on the ground ahead.

“I just kept pushing, pushing. It was hard, it was hot,” said Nukuri, who lives in Flagstaff, Ariz. “After one mile, the second mile, I felt really good and under control but it was in the shade so it was much easier. Once we got in the open and I was all by myself, I was just like ‘I just need to keep pushing, pushing.’ I needed to use my marathon strength.”

Cragg was the first to fade just shy of two miles. Without having injected too much of a surge, Nukuri found herself out front by two steps at 5-K in 16:08. In the subsequent four minutes, she’d build a 30-meter lead on Ejigu and Hall.

Despite very oppressive heat and humidity, Nukuri pressed on knowing that if she let off the gas even in the slightest, Hall would come back and catch her. The pair had trained a bit in Flagstaff, and knew each other’s fitness well.

“I was believing I could catch her. The crowd was great saying ‘You can get her!’ the whole way,” said Hall, who is in the middle of marathon training. “But I knew she was going to be tough… I knew with that time bonus that she was going to go for it.”

At points during the race, Nukuri looked like she may be hurting under the hot sun. She’d look back frequently and grimace every so often. But drawing energy from the thousands of spectators, she snapped back into form and passed the six mile mark with a very comfortable lead on Hall.

Raising her arms in jubilation, Nukuri broke the tape in 36:47, followed by Hall 23 seconds later in 37:10. Ejigu rounded out the top three in 37:26, with Neely Spence Gracey fourth (37:32) and Cragg fifth (37:53).

Nukuri was very pleased to win this race in her fifth try, as she had previously finished second twice (2011, 2013), fourth once (2014), and a dismal 20th in 2008. She is planning to do a fall marathon, though would not reveal which one.

“It’s really nice. This is one of the best races. You can’t find anything better than this,” she said. “It feels amazing, I’m so excited and can’t wait to come back.”

Before celebrating too much, Nukuri turned around to look back towards the race course. At Friday’s press conference, she told Race Results Weekly she’d do a little dance if she was to win. In the moment, though, her plans changed, well aware that the men’s race was rapidly developing. There would be no early celebration before the Countdown Clock hit zero.

As soon as Nukuri crossed the finish line, a countdown clock began ticking down from 5 minutes and 32 seconds. If the top male came across the finish line before the clock reached zero, he would take home a $5000 bonus. If it hit zero, the bonus would go to Nukuri. (The clock started at 5:32 because the elite women began ten minutes before the elite men and masses, thus they already have a ten minute advantage. Subtract the average time gap of 4:28 [the advantage organizers gave to women based on past results] and you have a 5:32 margin with which to work with.)

While Nukuri was recuperating at the finish, the men’s race was playing out as a battle for the ages. By the five mile mark, a group of six had been established: reigning winner Sambu, two-time champion Micah Kogo, United Airlines NYC Half victor Leonard Korir, newly minted American citizen Sam Chelanga, Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro, and B.A.A. 10-K champ Daniel Salel ran together. American Abdi Abdirahman was with the group, though he pulled out with a muscle cramp minutes earlier.

Familiar with the course’s undulating terrain, Sambu had hoped to make a commanding move at 5-K. But the heat and strength of his competitors made him reconsider. Sambu also was dealing with a debilitating headache from the 80-degree (27C) temperatures, possibly a sign of heat exhaustion.

All along the water’s edge, Sambu led step-for-step. While a bit frustrated that his colleagues would not help push the pace, Sambu remained calm and focused on the task at hand.

“I knew everyone was still there and in better shape than last year,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a sprint finish… I knew going to the finish line I was going to go hard a little bit then go down[hill].”

The race would shake up after the six mile mark, passing a gorgeous marina: Salel and Kipsiro were dropped, leaving four to battle for the $8,000 first-place prize, and perhaps the Countdown bonus.

Again using knowledge of the course to his advantage, Sambu injected a surge leading up the final hill with about 400 meters to go. Kogo, Korir, and Chelanga held on for dear life, though couldn’t quite match Sambu’s speed. The University of Arizona alum surged again after cresting the incline, proceeded to sprint downhill under an American flag and through the finish line.

Sambu was so concerned about his competitors that he didn’t bother to look up at the ‘Countdown’ clock next to the finish line. Breaking the tape in 32:17, he finished with three seconds left on the clock, giving him the $5,000 bonus.

“I didn’t know I won until they told me five minutes after. I knew it was going to be tough,” Sambu told the media. After finishing he proceeded to go straight to the medical tent, overcome by the suffocating heat and humidity. “I just came down hard [the final stretch].”

Witnessing how hard Sambu worked in the final meters, Nukuri applauded his efforts and courage in taking home the gender bonus.

“He earned it,” she said. “I just saw him crossing the line, when he came downhill they were flying. I was barely moving it was so hot… They had so many people pushing each other.”

By retaining his title, Sambu now joins an illustrious list of back-to-back men’s winners that includes Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Khalid Khannouchi, and Gilbert Okari, among others. Sambu said being mentioned among that list was extremely meaningful.

“To me, really, it’s very important. It means a lot to me to win twice in a row. Really I am so happy. I know it is not easy, but I am so happy.”

Kogo, second in 32:19, called the race a pure battle. He was followed across the line by Korir (32:20), Chelanga (32:21), Kipsiro (32:30), and Salel (32:51). It was a blur of purple at the finish, as all of the East Africans and Chelanga were wearing a shade of the color.

Feeling the burn in the last mile, Chelanga pushed on with extra motivation knowing today was his first race as an American citizen. On Friday, he took his oath in Tucson, Ariz.

“I felt like I represented America very well, the way I would want someone to fight. I just didn’t have a good kick,” he said. “I tried my best. I’m really happy I’m an American now. This week has been really emotional for me… Overall I think it’s a celebration and I couldn’t be any happier.”

Among the other notable American finishers were Aaron Braun (seventh, 33:15), Chris Derrick (eighth, 33:41), and Meb Keflezighi (tenth, 34:01). Keflezighi suffered a slight hamstring injury a few weeks ago, and ran as a tempo effort to finish as the top masters (40+) athlete. Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete Derrick just had an off day, he said.

“Falmouth was great up until about the third mile,” he said with a laugh. “The whole experience all the way through the weekend was awesome, my host family was great, thanks Judy and Craig. The early pace felt fine but I just never felt quite comfortable.”

Between the memorable battles for the individual wins, and the nail-biting Countdown finish, the day was a grand success according to Scott Ghelfi, President of the Board of Directors of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

“How exciting. [The Countdown] added a whole new element to the race,” he told Race Results Weekly. “I don’t think it could have worked out better than it did. Seeing Diane’s emotion on her face at the finish, extremely happy then disappointment to watch Stephen win, but still happy for her good friend. It was just great.”

When asked whether the race would hold a ‘Countdown’ again next year, Ghelfi hopes so.

“I’m not the one with the final say, but I would say absolutely!” he said.

Katy Moen-Wappsie Valley-ISU
©Jim Kirby

Iowa’s Simbassa and Moen to Turn Pro by Pat Goodwin


Katy Moen-Wappsie Valley-ISU ©Jim Kirby

Katy Moen-Wappsie Valley-ISU
©Jim Kirby

Four up-and-coming and highly decorated collegiate distance runners have joined Team USA Minnesota, bringing the number of athletes to 11 in the long-time training group that is based in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The recent graduates include Parker Stinson from the University of Oregon, Biya Simbassa of the University of Oklahoma, Katy Moen from Iowa State University, and Megan Goethals out of the University of Washington.

Courtesy Pat Goodwin and Team USA Minnesota

“This is a real exciting group of young runners to bring in,” said Team USA Minnesota coach Dennis Barker. “They have all shown the ability to compete successfully at a high level and they all competed for great collegiate programs under outstanding coaches. They know what it’s like to win and be a part of winning programs and that’s the kind of talent and attitude we were looking for.”

Stinson, whose prep career was in Texas, was a nine-time All American at Oregon, where he was a member of three NCAA Championship teams. He has personal best times of 13:28 in the 5000m and 27:54 in the 10,000m and was the first person to ever win three USA Junior Track & Field Championships at 10,000m, having won twice in high school and again during his freshman year with the Ducks. While finishing his final year in college, Stinson placed sixth at the .US 12k Championships last November in a time of 34:19.

Simbassa, originally from Ethiopia who came to Houston in 2007 at age 13 and became an American citizen, is a 2015 Sooners graduate where he ran times of 3:46 in the 1500m, 14:01 in the 5000m and 28:42 in the 10,000m. In the Big 12, he finished third at the Indoor 3000m and 5000m, fifth at the Outdoor 10,000m and second at the Big 12 Cross Country Championships. The All-American’s best time in 8k cross country was 23:22.

Iowa native Moen, who competed at Iowa State, is a two-time All American who won two Big 12 Championships (5000m and 10,000m) and was a USATFCCCA Midwest Women’s Regional Track Athlete of the Year. In the fall of her final year, she helped lead the Cyclones to a runner-up team finish at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships while placing eighth overall. She has bests of 9:08 in the 3000m, 15:51 in the 5000m and 33:09 in the 10,000m.

Goethals, who was the 2009 Foot Locker Cross Country Champion out of Michigan, was a nine-time All American at the University of Washington, where she posted personal best times of 9:08 in the 3000m, 15:33 in the 5000m and 32:52 in the 10,000m. She was also a Pac 12 5000m champion and after graduation won the 2015 Disney World Half Marathon and the Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k.

The new athletes join a team that includes three national champions – Heather Kampf, three-time USA 1 Mile Road (2012, 2014 and 2015); Gabriele Grunewald, USA Indoor 3000m in 2014; and Meghan Peyton, who was the 2013 USA 20k champion. Additional athletes are Jon Peterson, who has posted 13:33 in the 5000m; Josh Dedering, who has a best of 1:03:31 in the half marathon and is an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier; Emily Gordon, who has run 2:39 in the marathon and is an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier; and Gina Valgoi, who has bests of 15:54 in the 5000m and 33:07 in the 10,000m.

About Team USA Minnesota

Team USA Minnesota is based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. Founded in 2001, the purpose of the training center is to improve the competitiveness of post-collegiate American distance running and to develop Olympians. The athletes are coached by Dennis Barker.

Team USA Minnesota’s major sponsor is Twin Cities In Motion ( Its silver sponsors are the Houston Marathon Foundation (, the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Marathon (, Twin Cities Orthopedics (, and the Zero Runner ( It is also the recipient of the Running USA 2015 Allan Steinfeld Development Award. For more information, visit the team’s web site at


Contact: Pat Goodwin, 952-454-8876,

Jenny Simpson-Webster City-Colorado
©Jim Kirby

Jenny Simpson: “Personal Bests” by Steve Landells

Jenny Simpson-Webster City-Colorado ©Jim Kirby

Jenny Simpson-Webster City-Colorado
©Jim Kirby

Reigning 1500m Diamond Race winner Jenny Simpson recently clocked a season’s best of 3:57.30 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco.

The 2011 world champion from the USA delves into her memory bank to talk about some areas of her life which mean a lot to her.

My best friend in athletics
Without doubt it is Emma Coburn (US steeplechase champion). There is nothing like being able on a real mission on your career and having a friend in that fight and I definitely feel that way with Emma.

Steve Landells for the IAAF

My best achievement in athletics
By far it was winning the Diamond Race last year. I have had many high and low moments in my career, but what I am really impressed with is putting together an impressive body of work and I feel winning the Diamond Race is representative of that.

Winning the Diamond Race means I wasn’t great on one day or I was the beneficiary of chance – it means that over the course of an entire season I was the most consistent competitor at the highest level. I’m really proud of having that body of work.

My greatest rival
I would have to say that is Anna Willard from my steeplechasing days. I think to have a great rival, one of the prerequisites is for both athletes to trade wins and that is certainly true of Anna and me. We traded the American record, she won the Olympic Trials and I won the US Championships; we had these back-and-forths.

We also have very different personalities which really added fuel to a rivalry and was fun for fans. In the midst of all that, we were friendly towards each other, so we had all the elements of a great rivalry.

My greatest disappointment
Missing out on the 1500m final at the 2012 Olympics. Coming off a World Championships win (in 2011) put a lot of pressure on me and a lot was riding on that Olympic experience. It was really disappointing to me, although I didn’t feel that anyone stole anything from me because that season I was consistently running 4:05 or 4:06 and in that semi-final (Jenny was 12th and last) my fastest time of the year would not have advanced me to the final, so that shows me I just wasn’t ready to make the final.

My greatest indulgence
This has become a learned behaviour, but I would say since becoming a professional athlete I have allowed myself to feel less guilty about napping. I’m so tempted to fill every hour of my day with meaningful things, but I’ve learned that to be the best athlete I can, I have to simplify my life by resting more, so my greatest indulgence is taking a nap.

The best track venue
Any time I race at an Olympic stadium is my favourite experience. Of course, I have competed at the Beijing and London Games, but outside of that I’ve also competed at the Stockholm, Rome, Berlin, Tokyo and Moscow Olympic stadiums.

You can’t beat the intersection of your own career with the history of the sport. It is so special being able to walk into an Olympic stadium with my spikes on thinking I’m sharing this track with many others who have experienced so many Olympic moments.

My best ever race
It has to be the 2011 World Championships final when I won gold. It was my first time competing in the 1500m at a major championship and just navigating through the rounds was hard enough. In the final I was in seventh or eighth at the bell, but believed in my own kick to charge for the lead and managed to execute the race perfectly. Whether that was more through luck than any technical prowess I don’t know, but I looked like a seasoned 1500m runner, even though I probably had no idea what I was doing.

My best achievement outside of track and field
My younger sister (Emily) and I were typical angry siblings growing up. We got along and then we fought and we didn’t keep in close touch when I left for college. I have always loved her and we would see each other in holidays but despite our different paths (Emily is in the US Army) we have become best friends and I think my friendship with her and learning how to connect with her is one of my greatest achievements.

The best athlete I have ever seen
For sure it is Jackie Joyner-Kersee (world record-holder in heptathlon). I first got to meet her at high school and getting the chance to meet the best in the world at something leaves a strong impression. She was this woman in track and field that could do everything and there is nobody who can quite compare to her. On top of that she is the most incredibly gracious and sweet person in our sport and that makes her very special.


chase madison

Next Level Iowa Pro Thrower of the Year: Chase Madison

chase madisonChase Madison, the former Newton prep started his college career at Iowa State and finished it at Kentucky where he earned both All SEC and All American honors in the Discus. Madison has reunited with his former Kentucky coach, Doug Reynolds. Reynolds is now the throws coach at Alabama. Madison will enter next week’s US championships ranked #2 in the US and #14 in the world with his new PR of 65.42/214-7.

Congratulations to Chase Madison Next Level Iowa’s Pro Thrower of the Year!

Photo ©Michael Scott

Erik Sowinski
©Michael Scott

“Sowinski’s Talent Taking Him Around the World” by Darren Miller

Erik Sowinski ©Michael Scott

Erik Sowinski
©Michael Scott

A passport is required these days to watch Erik Sowinski run in big competitions.

Sowinski enrolled at the University of Iowa in the fall of 2008, armed with a Wisconsin High School 800-meter state championship (1:54.29) and a miniscule athletic scholarship. Less than seven years later he travels the world as a premier middle distance runner.

The most recent accomplishment for the 26-year-old native of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is a runner-up finish in the 800 final at the USA Track & Field Championships on June 28 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. That placed Sowinski on the United States national team that will compete at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships from Aug. 22-30 in Bejing, China.

“It has to be up there in the top two or top three (moments of my career),” Sowinski said about making the national team. “Winning a Big Ten (team) championship at home (in 2011) probably is 1A, this is probably 1B. I made the final every year (at the USATF Outdoor Championships), and to finally make a team is pretty special.”

Sowinski, who is sponsored by Nike, competed in three races over four days at the USATF Championships. He won the second preliminary heat June 25 in 1:47.80. The following day he was runner-up in a semifinal in 1:45.30. He was in lane three for the final.

“The plan was to be in the top three in the first 200 meters and don’t give up that position,” Sowinski said. “If I was first, second, or third, we would have achieved the ultimate goal, so that was the plan.”

The top three finishers in each event earn a spot on the national team.

As the race enfolded, Sowinski went to the rail in fourth place and crossed the 400-meter mark in third, with a time right at 50 seconds.

“We train a lot at 50-second pace for 400; it’s comfortable for me,” Sowinski said. “I do it a lot in practice and doing it by yourself is harder than having guys in front of you.

“With a pace that fast, the field gets strung out, so you don’t have to make a lot of moves, you are at a consistent pace the entire time and not jockeying for position. I knew if I was with those guys with 100 meters to go that I was confident with my strength at the end of the race.”

Sowinski found an extra gear with 200 meters left, briefly taking the lead 95 seconds into the race before being overcome by Nick Symmonds, a six-time US champion and two-time Olympian. After a celebratory pump of the fist at the finish line, Sowinski waved a United States flag toward the west bleachers at Hayward Field before hugging Symmonds.

Symmonds was clocked in 1:44.53, Sowinski in 1:44.84. Former Penn State runner Casimir Loxsom was third in 1:45.35.

“You put so much on the track during the year,” Sowinski said. “I ran six or seven weeks this fall between 70-80 miles a week and that was hard for me. When you have a goal you want to achieve and it finally comes to fruition, that was huge, and at the finish line you saw that. I am excited going forward.”

In the next two weeks Sowinski expects to compete in Canada and Europe.

“I’m in really good shape and I would like to get in a couple races that are going to go fast and see what happens on fresh legs,” Sowinski said. “Between that and World Championships we have about 3 ½ weeks and we will be able to get a good training cycle in then.”

Sowinski’s race calendar will be interrupted July 7 when he closes on a home in Iowa City. While most of the elite runners sponsored by Nike train in Portland or Eugene, Sowinski opts for Iowa City with his coach Joey Woody, director of track and field at the University of Iowa.

“Everything is so comfortable here. I have been here so long, the people around me, the facilities are great,” Sowinski said. “It’s hard to argue with the results; things are going in the right direction and as long as they keep going that way I don’t think there is a need to change anything.”

Sowinski continues to work part-time at Running Wild, a specialty shoe store in Coralville and Iowa City, where he puts a degree in physiology to use. Despite his success as a runner, most of the customers are oblivious to his fame.

“You would be surprised. Actually, very few people (know who I am),” Sowinski said with a laugh.

Sowinski has personal best times of 1:44.58 in the 800 and he is the American record holder in the 600 (1:15.61). On Feb. 5 in the Bahamas, he ran the second leg on a victorious 4×800 relay team at the IAAF World Relays that was clocked in 7:04.84. Other members were Duane Solomon, Loxsom, and Robbie Andrews. Andrews was runner-up in the 1,500 run final at the USATF Championships.

This is the first appearance for Sowinski at a World Championship and his goal is to qualify for the final.

“If you make a final in any major championship, anything can happen,” Sowinski said. “You saw London (Olympics) in 2012, all eight guys ran 1:43 high or faster and most of them hadn’t run even been close to that before. If you get into a major championship in a fast race, anything can happen. Breaking 1:44 would be a huge goal for me.”

Sowinski isn’t sure who will be in his entourage to China.

“Neither one of my parents have a passport, so that could be an issue,” Sowinski said. “If they decide they are going to go get passports, that would be awesome.”

Because these days, a passport is required to watch Sowinski run in big competitions.

Erik Sowinski ©Michael Scott

Erik Sowinski
©Michael Scott

jenny simpson

Next Level Iowa’s Pro Runner of the Year: Jenny Simpson

jenny simpsonJenny Simpson, the Webster City native is having a great outdoor season. She was the current US and World leader in the 1500M at 3:59.31 heading into the US Championships, where she was the favorite to win. Even though Simpson had a bye to the World Championships in Beijing, she still insisted in competing with the nations best and proved beyond a doubt that she she is the nation’s reigning queen in the 1500m. Never one to shy away from a challenge Jenny Simpson will be among the medal favorites at the World Championships in China.


Congratulations to Jenny Simpson The Next Level Iowa Pro Runner of the Year.

Lindsay Lettow-DM Christian-ABEO/SBTC
©Jim Kirby

Lindsay Lettow 5th at the USATF Nationals Heptathlon

Lindsay Lettow-DM Christian-ABEO/SBTC ©Jim Kirby

Lindsay Lettow-DM Christian-ABEO/SBTC
©Jim Kirby

Lindsay Lettow-DSM Christian-ABEO/SBTC finished 5th in the USATF Heptathlon in Eugene, OR with a total of 6023 points.  Lettow set personal bests this weekend in the 1oom hurdles in a time of 13:56 and the high jump by jumping 1.76m (5-9¼ft).

Megan Glisar-Sgt Bluff-S. Dakota
©Darren Miller

Iowans Declare for USATF Nationals

Megan Glisar-Sgt Bluff-S. Dakota ©Darren Miller

Megan Glisar-Sgt Bluff-S. Dakota
©Darren Miller

Here is a list of Iowa affilates DECLARED entries for the upcoming USATF championships in Eugene next week (Senior events listed only)


200M-Brittany Brown, U of Iowa
400M-Elexis Guster, U of Iowa
800M-Bethany Praska, former U of Iowa
1500M-Shelby Houlihan, SC East/Az St.
5K and 10K-Meghan Armstrong Peyton, former U of Iowa
100H-Lolo Jones, DM Roosevelt/LSU. Alex Gochenour, Logan Magnolia/Arkansas
High Jump-Megan Glisar, SB Luton, former Morningside, South Dakota
Long Jump-Skye Morrison, former Wartburg
Heptathlon-Alkex Gochenour, Logan Magnolia/Arkansas. Lindsay Lettow, DM Christian/ former Central Missouri

800M-Erik Sowinski, former U of Iowa
1500M-Dorian Ulrey, former UNI/Arkansas
110HH-Aaron Mallett, U of Iowa
400H-LaRon Bennett, Drake Asst. Coach
Steeplechase-Hillary Bor-former Iowa State
Masters 3K-Lance Elliott, Montezuma/former Iowa State
Triple Jump-Troy Doris, former U of Iowa
Discus-Chase Madison. Newton/Iowa State/former Kentucky
Hammer Throw-AG Kruger, Sheldon/former Morningside

Ashton Eaton-Oregon Oregon Nike Project 
©Jim Kirby

“Believing in Super Heroes” by Coach Dan Steele

Bruce Jenner-Graceland-Olympic Decathlete ©Sports Illustrated/CNN

Bruce Jenner-Graceland-Olympic Decathlete
©Sports Illustrated/CNN

Here is an excellent recent post by Coach Dan Steele from his UNI Track and Field Blog

When I was seven years old, my twin brother, Darrin and I watched every second of the 1976 Olympic decathlon. I still remember the two of us on the floor in front of the TV, watching a man named Bruce Jenner break the world record en route to his Olympic gold medal. Like thousands of people around the world, Bruce was like a superhero to us. Without question, he was my first real hero. He inspired in me a love for the decathlon and Olympic Games that remains to this day.

I have been fortunate in my life to have met a good number of famous people. Some have been kind and some of been jerks. I once met one of my greatest athletic heroes who rolled his eyes when I told him what a big fan I was, and asked him for an autograph. I very conspicuously tossed the autographed piece of paper into the trash as I walked away, crushed.

And then there was Bruce Jenner. In 1995 I emerged on the scene as a rookie, national class decathlete. In 1990, Visa became the signature sponsor of the US decathlon, sponsoring the top ten US decathletes each year. It was an amazing partnership, connecting current decathletes with the greats of the past. I finished 5th at the ’95 US Championships and was named to the Visa USA Decathlon Team. The morning of the ’95 team announcement I stepped into an elevator that Bruce was in. I’d like to say I introduced myself in that moment and finally met my childhood hero. Instead, I was transported back in time, a seven year old, too star-struck to say a word to his hero. Through the Visa sponsorship I did eventually meet him, along with all the other living US decathlon gold medalists. I found Bruce easy to talk with and genuine. In fact, I am very happy to say they were all great, great guys.
One year later I was in my Atlanta high rise hotel room the night before the 1996 Olympic Trials. It was after midnight and I was too keyed up to sleep. I decided to take a walk. I remember riding down an enormous escalator and seeing Bruce all by himself in the lobby. He saw me as I stepped off the escalator, smiled and walked up to me. He correctly assumed I couldn’t sleep and asked how I was feeling about my chances of finishing top three. I played it cool, but was thrilled to run into him.

Then, in one of the most surreal moments of my life, he told me a story. He told me how he had been in the Quad Cities (where I grew up) a couple of weeks earlier for an appearance. He said he was at a media event where local reporters were asking him questions. “One of the reporters asked me if I thought you had a chance to make the Olympic team in the decathlon,” he told me. “I told them, You know, I just watched him compete, and that guy’s pretty darn good. I said, Yes, I think he’s got a real shot.” His words just hung in the air. Here I was in front of my childhood hero, and he was telling ME a story about a reporter asking HIM a question about me. And he knew me well enough to answer the question.

I remember very distinctly thinking to myself that I have no idea what it feels like to “make it,” but this was good enough for me. Bruce didn’t have to share that story with me. I wasn’t a star of any kind, and he had been around long enough to know that I would never be one. The generosity he showed me in that moment has always stayed with me. My first hero in life was worthy of my admiration.

Through the years it has pained me to see and hear the ridicule directed at Bruce Jenner. I’ve always been quick to defend him. I have watched the Kardashians, and my opinion of Bruce hasn’t changed. Even on the show I find him kind and generous. I see him as the voice of reason. This past year the rumors regarding his gender identity have been frequent. Selfishly, I’ve not accepted any of it. “It’s for the show,” I’d say. “Nope. No way.” I am accepting this is a very real issue thousands of people (millions?) must deal with. But Bruce Jenner was my hero. I just couldn’t accept that someone so influential to me was somebody else.

This weekend I brought my athletes to the Drake Relays. My famous former athlete, and his coach, Harry Marra were there as well. I’ve known Harry since 1995- he was instrumental in the Visa partnership and is a personal friend mine, and of Bruce. A more decent man- more committed to the decathlon, you’ll never meet. Friday evening Harry and I ran into each other outside of Drake stadium, right around the time of the Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer interview. We discussed Bruce and our take on this- both wishing we were watching the interview instead of waiting for the hotel shuttle. We casually explored ulterior motives and possible explanations outside of face value. Finally, Harry said, “You know, I don’t know what the truth is, Dan. But I consider Bruce a friend. I’ll always consider him a friend.” And that pretty much summed it up. I can’t personally say he’s a friend because I don’t know him that way. But I can say he always was and always will be my hero.

Ashton Eaton and Daniel Gooris-UNI ©Jim Kirby

Ashton Eaton and Daniel Gooris-UNI
©Jim Kirby

The next day I was able to watch Ashton interact with fans. I’ve known Ashton since he was a high school senior and I am proud of whatever role I played in his assent to becoming the world’s greatest athlete. I swell with pride watching the kindness and generosity he shows to a young athlete I currently coach who says Ashton is his hero. Just last week I told Ashton’s mom, Roz that I was more proud of the man Ashton’s become than I am the athlete. Of course, she concurred. Watching Ashton with his fans is surreal. I see myself with Bruce and sit in awe at the incredible connection between the seven year old I was, Bruce, Ashton and the current generation that sees Ashton as a hero.

I got home last night from the Drake Relays and the first thing I did this morning was watch the entire interview of Bruce on Hula Plus. Maybe I’m naïve, but I didn’t see any ulterior motives. I saw my childhood hero, bravely telling a story that most of us would be terrified to tell. I take him at his word. Clearly, I know very little about the transgender community, but I have great compassion for anyone trying to navigate this life with a gender identity different than their gender assignment. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to go public with this. As if life isn’t challenging enough.
So as it turns out, the man I idolized in childhood, (in his words) “has the soul of a woman.” At the age of 65, Bruce Jenner is courageously telling his story because he can’t live a lie anymore. And so begins his brave new authentic life as a woman. He aspires to change the world by bringing front page awareness to the transgender community. And I am forced to come to terms with the following truth: The man I saw as a superhero in childhood turns out to be a genuine, bonafide superhero. Who knew? And how lucky am I?

You can read more from Coach Steele’s blog by Clicking Here.

Erik Sowinski-Iowa
©Jim Kirby 2012

Former Hawk Breaks World Record

Erik Sowinski-Iowa ©Jim Kirby

Erik Sowinski-Iowa
©Jim Kirby

Utilizing a tremendous opening leg by Olympian Matt Centrowitz, Team USA shattered the previous men’s distance medley relay world record at the New Balance Track & Field Center at the Armory on Saturday. The first stop of the USATF Championship Series, the Armory Track Invitational kicked off the 2015 professional indoor track & field season.

Centrowitz, along with Oregon standout Mike Berry, USATF Indoor Champion Erik Sowinski, and American 4x1500m record holder Pat Casey, knocked over six seconds off the previous record, set by the University of Texas in 2008 (9:25.97). The quartet crossed the finish in 9:19.93. Watch Team USA’s world record on here.

Centrowitz ran a phenomenal opening 1,200m, splitting 2:49.47. Handing off the baton to World Championships relay gold medalist Berry, the 400 meter leg only aided the quartet’s cause, as Berry passed the stick to Sowinski in a 46.40 400m split. Sowinski is no stranger to breaking world records in Team USA relays, having anchored the Team USA All-Stars to the 4×800-meter relay world record just over a year ago.

Sowinski ran a 1:47.60 800m split before Casey, who ran the opening leg of the American record 4x1500m at the IAAF World Relays last May, took over the final 1,600m. Casey finished his leg in 3:56.48 and carried the U.S. to a 9:19.93 finish

Another big winner Saturday was Jordan Hasay, who took home the women’s 2-mile invitational in 9:38.28. Hasay bided her time behind Buze Diriba, waiting to make her move until the final two laps. Hasay comfortably took the lead just before the bell lap and powered through the final 200 meters to take home the win in front of a packed crowd at the Armory. Watch Jordan outkick Buze Diriba on here.

Ajee’ Wilson looked to be in great form early in the season, taking the women’s 800m in 2:01.63. The race didn’t seem to go to the pace as planned, but Wilson powered through to take the win. Treniere Moser surged in the final 150 meters to earn the runner-up finish in 2:01.79. Watch Ajee’ take the women’s 800m on here.

Next weekend holds something for everyone, as the USATF Cross Country Championships kick off viewing on Saturday, Feb. 7. Fans can then catch the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix Saturday as the USATF Championship Series rolls on to Boston with broadcast coverage on both and NBCSN.