Thursday, November 5, 2009 – 6:15AM
I started not to answer the phone ringing on the night stand next to my bed. I berated myself for not doing what I usually do, which is to put the phone on the charger over night in the office on the other side of the house, thus aviding this kind of unwelcomed intrusion. In that self-flagellating, mood I thought the further punishment of actually answering the phone was definitely in order. But that would in no way make it easier on the person who was calling. They were going to catch hell from me and be made to suffer as I was.
Brooks, I have a guy here who says he knows you. He’s a runner named Ned.
Jewel, what the hell are you calling me for at this time of day ? I don’t KNOW any damned runner named NED !!!
No,no, no, his name is Meb and he says he knows you and wants to talk to you.
Meb ? Jewel,.. why in the hell didn’t you say that in the first place. Put him on the damned phone !!!!
Jeez, good morning to you too !! Here he is.
Meb, congratulations on your win in New York !!! I sent Bob ( Meb’s coach ) a congratulatory e-mail right after you kicked
ass in the New York Marathon. It’s good to get the chance to congratulate you as well.
Coach, it is good to talk with you. I remember your help in Chula Vista and our Monday night team meetings down there at
the USOC Training Center. I am very appreciative of your support and the honest comments you have made to me. As you
know my wife is from Tampa and I will be back down here in a month or so and we should get together.
Meb, I remember you telling me you were going to marry a lady from Tampa. Congratulations on that too. A little late, but
sincere all the same. Ask Jewel to give you my number so you can call me the next time you are in the area.
Coach, I will do that and I will give her my number for you as well.
Good, you have a good flight and we will get together when you are back this way. Give the phone back to Jewel.
Jewel, it is a very good thing that it was Meb you were calling me about at this crazy-ass hour.. He is one of the really great
people in this sport. Get his number and forward it on to me please.
I was working the departure gate over here at the Tampa airport and Meb and I got into this conversation and he said he
knew someone from Orlando, and when I asked him who, he said you, so I knew I had to take the risk and call you, even if
it meant I was going to get chewed out. You are such a big grouch , but anyway I thought it was worth it.
Jewel, you did good girl !
I’m glad you think so. When the people over here found out who he was they were all over him for autographs and stuff.
The captain even bragged about having a real celebrity on the flight. Meb was so cute and gracious. He smiled the whole
time giving out his card and signing autoraphs for everybody. What a nice person !!
Jewel,….thanks. Now get the number and get it to me.
Leo Duroucher was one of the most famous and successful baseball managers of all time. Despite his success with winning teams, he will be most remembered because of a quote he once made. When asked about the caustic and edgy nature of his personality he responded, ” Nice guys finish last !!!” Given the number of less than “nice guys” I have seen finish first, I would generally agree with him. You generally do not see girl scouts ( girl guides ) or boy scouts on the podium at the Olympic Games.
Meb Keflezighi breaks the mode. Not only him, but his coach as well. There are not too more unaffected and humble people in the sport than Meb and Bob Larsen, his coach.  From October, 2002 through the Olympics of 2004 I ran the USATF High Performance Center at the USOC Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Generally Meb and Bob trained at Mommoth Lakes
with then, Deena Drossin, and a cadre of athletes that included Ryan Shay. When the Mommoth Lakes group wanted to train at sea level they came to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista. Ryan Shay had his game face on all the time. I remember asking him over dinner one night when he found time to unwind and relax and Meb piped up, ” Coach, he never does. He is all business,.. all the time. I wish I cold be like that.” Deena immediately piped up, ” No you don’t Meb.” We all giggled and laughed and I was impressed with the real human love, and high regard they mutually and reciprocally had for each other. It was a real joy to see that people who worked as hard they did, could also find time to poke fun at themselves.
At that time the U.S. had not had an Olympic marathon medal performance since Joan Benoit ( gold ) in 1984. As the Chair of the High Performance Division of USATF, it was my responsibility to support athletes and events that I felt could/would medal at the Olympics. When I suggested that we support the marathon with some of our limited resources, I was ridiculed and criticized , but rarley to my face, by the “pundits” and “experts”,…. with the then CEO of USATF being chief among the doubters. There is no need for me to share with you just how much I gloated and crowed when both Meb and Deena medaled in Athens.
The basis of my confidence in our chances in our medal hopes in Athens in the marathon date back to something I was told by a banker friend of mine many years ago. I asked Alan Lastinger, who then head of Barnett Bank in Gainesville, Florida,
Alan, when you guys decide who you are going to make a loan to, do you do it based upon the product or idea they
have,  the collateral, or what ?
Brooks, we take a good look at the horse, but we ultimately bet on the rider.
In Deena and Meb I knew we had two very good ponies. But I also had arrogant confidence in their coaches, Bob Larsen and Dr. Joe Vigil. The reason I had confidence in Deena and Meb was because each had, had significant success at the five and ten thousand meters. So I knew they were not just “long slow distance” disciples and devotees,…. and neither were their coaches.
Dr. Vigil is perhaps the most knowledgeable exercise physiologist in the world, if taken from a practicing and practical perspective. Bob Larsen had coached people with national and international success in events as short as the 800, so I knew that he knew speed as applied to the marathon from an intimate and successful point of view.  This trend toward moe speed has been further developed and expanded with U.S. female steeplechasers now running world class times at the 1,500.
Now here comes the kicker. Even after the medals in Athens, I got a call from Dr. Vigil advising me that the Olympic Training Center at Chula Vista was not providing them with housing for their sealevel training.  By that time I had returned to Florida
and in my absence, Jay Warwick of the USOC and the USATF Partnership Liasson, had changed the priorities for Chula Vista and there was “no room at the inn” for the Mammoth Lakes athletes and coaches. He’s no longer there, so there
is nothing to be gained from expanding more on the kind of ignorance and arrogance that can be visited on athletes and coaches when administrators do not have an in-depth knowledge of the sport they are supposed to be administering.
But this is a happy piece. Both Deena and Meb are very positive, happy and joyous people to be around. They are as nice as human beings as they are talented and dedicated as elite athletes. Being pleasant, civil and cordial is as natural for them as inhaling/exhaling and winning.
Leo Durocher,….up yours !!!!
Brooks T. Johnson
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