O.K. Admit it. You have this Masters Track and Field fantasy about getting in the starting blocks and looking over to see XXX a former Olympic competitor in the next lane. "On your mark. Get set." False start, wake up and smell the Gatorade.
Chances are, it will never happen. Oh, yes, there have been rumors floating around via e-mail (along with other urban legends) that Edwin Moses (who turns 45 on 31 August) will come down from the mountain and run a masters 400m Hurdles race. And bless him if does.
But the fact is that there are virtually no open elite athletes still competing at that level over the age of 40 (Johnny Gray is still a young 39). A review of the IAAF website which lists the world’s top 50 athletes in each T&F event (I’ve excluded the Marathon and racewalking) for 1999 reveals only four competitors over the age of forty: one discus thrower Svein Valvik (NOR-42) on the men’s list and three women - two shot putters, Meisu Li (CHN-40) and Judy Oakes (GBR-41), and one discus thrower, Zdenka Silhava (CZE-45). There are only 21 in the M35-39 age group and 28 in the W35-39 age group, but of these only four men and five women are from the United States. So the odds are unlikely that world-class athletes will show up at your local masters T&F meet.
This is not to say that former American or World Record holders are not sighted occasionally. Back in 1995, I watched former Henry Rono (one time WR holder in the 3K, 5K, 10K and SC) run the M40 800m and 5000m at the Northwest Regional Masters Championships at Gresham, OR. He placed second (2 out of 2) at 2:21.59 in the 800m and second (2 out of 2) at 17:41.40 in the 5000m. But we were all thrilled to see him at a Masters meet.
Others may recall watching a great masters (M40) high jump competition at the 1995 WAVA-Buffalo meet between two former Olympians, Dwight Stones and Jim Barrineau, with Barrineau coming out on top.
I recently spoke with Nolan Cromwell, a terrific 400m Hurdler from the University of Kansas who I ran against at the KU Relays who is now working for the Seattle Seahawks. He will turn 47 this year. Unfortunately, football injuries mean that he will never get the chance to run Masters Track and Field, which is probably true for many potential masters competitors.
But it seems that open/elite athletics operates in its own world, far apart from Masters Track and Field. Further proof comes in the form of "Fast Forward", the Official Publication of USA Track & Field, for which we all help support with our USAT&F memberships. The Winter 1999 issue, which came recently, remains an embarrassment. Perhaps it is just as well that they fail to mention Masters Track & Field in a publication so thin it doesn’t even have page numbers.
This is not to say that masters 40+ have not received recognition elsewhere. Ken Stone has pointed out that Runner's World Online recently ran Marty Post’s list of the top masters long-distance runners of the century:
One problem, perhaps is that there is no real age group championships for open/elite T&F athletes who peak out around 30. If WAVA would drop its World Championship age groups down to M/W30, perhaps there would be a more natural progression and interest in keeping active in track & field. After all, according to my compilation of the world’s 1998 outdoor top three masters times by age group, I had the second best M45-49 400m Hurdle time on the planet. (See: 1998 World Masters Outdoor Rankings) Somehow that just doesn’t seem right.
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