Monday, June 8, 2009

Records lost, respect won

It's always sad to "take away" a record. In reality, though, the decertification of a record is not about taking away, but about considering new evidence and realizing the record shouldn't have been called a record at all. It happens from time to time in this sport. What makes it sad is that the athletes who celebrated are perceived to have been kicked in the teeth, or "hated on" as we hear all too often.

But true athletes strive for records in the knowledge that a record represents the ultimate. A record represents value and hard work and respect. And no true athlete wants a cheap, phony, or suspicious record. For our records to carry real value, they must be beyond reproach. No one wants whispers that they didn't run far enough, that the wind was blowing too hard, that the field sloped downhill, that the timers were sloppy, etc. It is the most important responsibility of meet management to ensure that the competition is fair and the resulting marks are reliable to the best of our ability. That means that for our most prestigious competitions, the facilities must be top-notch, the timing must be fully-automatic, and the wind gauges must be used in accordance with the rules.

And occasionally, when meet management slips up and those requirements aren't met, something is declared a record despite the fact that it doesn't measure up. Those are the breaks... "When in doubt, throw it out." That's because a record that's not quite right robs three groups: past record holders, who have had their achievements unfairly erased; future record challengers, for whom the bar has been wrongly placed too high; and the supposed current record breakers themselves, who may spend the rest of their careers trying to live up to the expectations of a bogus performance.

Two current cases are on my desk. Both are unfortunate, but both are also tribute to the honesty of our meet officials and the classiness of the athletes involved:

At Grand Rapids West Catholic High School, Zack Hill threw what was called a state record 67-11.25 in the shot put at his regional meet. However, some of the attendees noted what appeared to be a sloping landing area. The rule, incidentally, is that the landing area in the throws is allowed to slope by no more than a 1:1000 ratio. That's 0.1 percent. The officials at West Catholic brought in a professional surveyor afterward and found that the field slopes by a bit more than one percent. Doesn't sound like much, but it's 10 times the allowable. The state record reverts to Hill's earlier 67-0.5. Are there other fields in the state with illegal slopes? I'm sure there are, but no one has the time and the money to check them all out. In the meantime, we rely on the honesty of people like those at West Catholic.

The reaction of Zack and his family was refreshing. Said his mom when she was informed, "That is a bummer! Although understandable... We will pray that he throws big next weekend and then this will all be irrelevant." She passed on to us an exchange she had with his coaches, in which one of them added, "Zack is a great kid. This is no big deal, and it changes nothing. God has a plan for even this. Perhaps he will use it to give Zack a sense of perspective that records are made to be broken, and lost, no one should live for records. Really, there ought to be a record for most humble, and mature thrower with a positive attitude and a servant heart."

Here's hoping that Zack pops the big one in Jackson on Saturday!

The second unfortunate record situation happened in the D1 Finals at East Kentwood. The two-lap stagger in lane five appeared to some knowledgeable officials to be in the wrong place. That's the mark from which an East Kentwood boys foursome demolished the 24-year-old state record in the 4 x 100 with their amazing 41.47. The MHSAA had some remeasurements done by the meet director and found that lane to apparently be 38-inches short. A minuscule difference. My math shows it to be a tenth of a second, meaning their "actual" 41.57 still would have slammed the old record by two-tenths. But it didn't. Whether it's a inch short or 38 inches, it still can't be a record, even converted (though the converted version will appear on the Michtrack all-time lists).

You might think the East Kentwood athletes took this pretty badly. Sure, it was a hard pill to swallow, but coach Dave Emeott made it clear that his guys will accept the verdict. And in truth, we might not yet know the eventual verdict. The firm that originally certified the track reportedly maintains that the track is correct, however, they will be unable to confirm that for some time. Their chief guy is undergoing open heart surgery, and can't revisit EK until he recovers. However, the East Kentwood sprinters aren't sitting around feeling sorry for themselves and waiting for vindication. They're reportedly making plans to race at the Nike Outdoor Championships to prove to the world that they're fast. "Yeah, they can run faster," says Emeott.

It's often been said that records are made to be broken. Maybe so, but records have a higher purpose. They are meant to be honest and true and to motivate our athletes to become the best people they can be, whether they break them or not. Zack Hill and the East Kentwood sprinters are shining examples of the kind of success we truly want for our young people.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

Well said, your words and encouragement are much appreciated and respected.