Jenny Simpson
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Five memorable shoe malfunctions in track and field

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When Eliud Kipchoge‘s insoles starting flapping out of his Nikes less than halfway to winning Sunday’s Berlin Marathon, it marked another in a long line of footwear failures in major track and field racing.

Here’s a list of five other memorable instances from the Olympics and Olympic-level competition:

1. Jenny Simpson, 2015 World Championships 1500m final

Simpson, the 2011 World champion in the event, was undone after the heel of her teal left New Balance shoe got caught and partially slipped off while making a move about halfway through the race (video here).

“Pretty intense jostling, and that’s where I started to lose half of it,” Simpson told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “I was clinching my toes as hard as possible.”

Simpson gave up and kicked the shoe off with about 600 meters left while trailing only eventual winner Genzebe Dibaba.

“Of all things in my mind, what I was thinking was I didn’t want to kick it into the crowd of people and take anyone else out,” she said. “It was terrible for me, but I didn’t want to ruin anyone else’s race.”

Runners quickly passed her, and Simpson was in eighth place as the bell rang for the final lap. Simpson’s thoughts turned to preserving her foot for future races as the track ripped skin.

“It’s not that it’s so intensely painful that you can’t keep running, but it’s for training,” Simpson told Johnson on Universal Sports. “You can’t run on a foot that doesn’t have skin. … As everyone went by me, I just thought, I’ll get them next week.”

2. Ajee’ Wilson, 2015 U.S. Championships 800m final

Wilson, the world’s fastest 800m runner in 2014 and second fastest in 2015 going into the race, lost her right Adidas shoe while jostling for the lead near the start of the final curve with 200 meters to go, saying she got clipped (race video here).

Wilson persevered and grabbed third place by .04 of a second while running with one shoe on. The top three finishers earned berths on the World Championships team.

“I didn’t really have time to think,” Wilson, who later withdrew from Worlds due to a leg injury, told media after the race. “It kind of was halfway on, so I wiggled it off.”

3. John Kagwe, 1997 New York City Marathon

The Kenyan Kagwe was running on Nike Air Vengeance shoes he had bought at an expo the day before. He triple-knotted them, but the right shoe untied three times during the race.

Kagwe won the 26.2-mile race, but he missed the then-course record by 11 seconds, surely because twice he stopped to retie his right shoe. When it untied the third time, he decided to run the last four miles with the laces flapping in the wind.

“I said forget it, if my shoe falls off, I keep running,” Kagwe said, according to Newsday.

Nike later paid him the $10,000 bonus he would have been due had he broken the course record.

4. Moses Tanui/Quincy Watts/Mark Croghan, 1993 World Championships

The Kenyan Tanui led Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie going into the final of 25 laps in Stuttgart, Germany, when Gebrselassie clipped Tanui’s left heel (video here).

Tanui realized it almost immediately, waved his arms, flung his left shoe off and tried to sprint away from Gebrselassie. But the Ethiopian caught and passed Tanui in the final stretch for the first of his four straight World titles in the 10,000m.

Tanui pushed Gebrselassie after the race and waved his shoe in the Ethiopian’s face. A Kenyan protest was rejected.

“I could not grab the last lap the way I wanted,” Tanui said on CBC while carrying a Kenyan flag and still wearing one shoe. “If I had my shoes, he would not beat me.”

Also in those World Championships, one of then-reigning U.S. Olympic 400m champion Watts’ shoes fell apart during the one-lap final (video here). He ended up fourth.

“When I tried the shoes on in warm-ups, I kept hearing this funny popping sound,” Watts said, according to the USC athletics website. “I checked my spikes and everything was tight and nothing was loose. So then once the race started I realized, ‘Hm, after the first 100, I’m normally in better position and I’m not catching these guys, and not only am I not catching these guys, they’re actually moving away from me!’

“And then all of a sudden I hear this flapping sound again, and I look down and I see my shoe opening and closing, flapping like a banana peel at the bottom. And I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s my shoe.’ And at that point with about 140 meters to go, I just sucked it up and gave everything I had.”

Finally, U.S. Olympic steeplechaser Croghan had an insole come apart after the first water jump of his final in Stuttgart. Croghan finished fifth in a personal-best time. Croghan, like Tanui and Watts, wore Nikes, though Croghan had replaced his insoles with ones he had purchased in a local store, according to The Associated Press.

5. Abebe Bikila, 1960 Olympic marathon

Bikila was a late replacement onto the Ethiopian team for the 26.2-mile race. In Rome, Bikila’s team-issued shoes did not fit comfortably, so he ran barefoot and won the first of his two straight Olympic marathon titles (video here).

Bikila, who had previously trained barefoot, was the first East African to win an Olympic medal. His second title at Tokyo 1964 came with shoes.

MORE TRACK AND FIELD: Few U.S. Olympic hopefuls running fall marathons

Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

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Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

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Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
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Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

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