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Posted: July 18, 2005
Athletics: Catching up with Frank Shorter
Lynne Bermel (left) runs with the legendary Frank Shorter near his home in Boulder
By Lynne Bermel.
Trying to catch up with Frank Shorter is like heading towards the starting line of the Boston marathon: You know you’ll get there sometime, you just don’t know when.
I finally managed to track down America’s greatest track and field athlete after several e-mails, phone calls, and more than one visit to his home in his adopted town of Boulder.
Although I could be accused of such in this case, I’m not really a stalker. Frank Shorter had “loosely” agreed to be interviewed for the Runners Web when he was in Ottawa as a speaker at the ING marathon this spring.
After what I thought would be my final “waiting in the van session” outside his modest home nestled in the Boulder foothills, I was delighted to see him pull up into his driveway. He jumped out of his red sports car, waved me over and with his arms full of grocery bags, motioned to follow him to his deck.
At 58, he still looked fit and boyish, although he walks with the shuffle of any ordinary man of his age, courtesy of a debilitating back problem he suffered years ago.
As he put away boxes of granola as well as grapes, tomatoes, lettuce and other items, all of which together had less fat content than the eggs benedict I’d inhaled that morning - he explained he was still recovering from jet lag. He’d just spent the last few days on the Big Island of Hawaii as guest of the Kona marathon where he ran a respectable half marathon in 1:44 “for fun.”
We moved out to his deck. I found it a majestic place for an interview: The smells of fresh mountain air, breathtaking views of the mountains, trees and flowers and an endless gravel running trail within feet of our patio chairs. As runners of every shape and size jogged by, waving at Boulder’s most famous resident, he shared his views on drugs in sport, life beyond racing and his new book.
We started with his current passion – drugs. While Frank retired from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in 2003, where he’d served as its Chair since its creation in 2000, he remains active as its spokesperson.
Frank Shorter (right) shows Runners Web reporter, Lynne Bermel, the trails around his home in Boulder, Colorado
RW: Today’s sports headlines are about Marion Jones bolting from the preliminaries at the U.S. Track and Field Championships. What does that say about our sport? How damaging is that?
Frank: I don’t want to point the figure at anyone. In situations like this, it’s important that we preserve the privacy of the individual and respect their legal rights.
RW: You obviously have a strong position on the subject.
Frank: It’s interesting that you’re here talking to me about it given Canada’s history. Canada must be very interested in what is going on right now.
The whole doping situation came to light with Ben Johnson and it’s now come full circle with Becky Scott. It’s touching irony that the first major beneficiary of the new controls in place is a Canadian athlete. (Canada’s Scott was awarded the bronze medal for the 5kms cross-country skiing event at the Salt Lake Olympics, only to be later awarded gold when the two Russians who finished ahead of her were disqualified for drugs. She is the only Olympian in history to get the bronze, silver and gold for the same event).
RW: Is the really new system really working? Aren’t we just starting to see a reversal of fortunes? Look what’s happening now in the sprints where Americans used to dominate. Now that the U.S. is cracking down on its athletes, the Jamaicans are starting to clean up.
Frank: The pressure is starting to have an impact. I predicted 2-3 years ago that there would be a phase initially when third world countries would start to do better, in part due to less stringent testing programs. That’s one of the initial casualties of testing.
It’s no coincidence that at Grand Prix meets in Europe athletes now have to produce a passport as evidence of the fact that they’ve successfully passed two unannounced drug tests. Otherwise, they can’t compete. It’s a cross pollination of an idea. We’re now seeing athletes having to prove successful results from legitimate labs or they can’t compete in the Olympics. The system is starting to work.
RW: Why are you so passionate about it?
Frank: Obviously, we’ve now discovered that in the 1970s, if you were an East German athlete, you were on the doping program. [Frank lost the Olympic marathon in 1976 by 50 seconds to the virtually unknown East German runner, Waldemar Cierpinski]. The thing is, I never wanted to take action that would be self-serving. I’m involved because I believe I should do something about it rather than complain about it. It’s coincidental that my involvement has been at a time when the situation worldwide has become ripe for change.
RW: How did you get involved in the anti-doping movement in the first place?
Frank: In 1998, White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey launched the campaign for world and U.S. sports anti-doping agencies to be "independent, open, accountable, no-notice and retroactive." He started funding research into EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs. I heard about it and I was motivated to write a letter. That led to other discussions and shortly thereafter, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was created.
RW: But can it really work?
Frank: A lot has to do with time and history. Any ruling must have teeth: It can’t allow a third world federation to reinstate the athlete if they’re found guilty.
RW: What’s the greatest reward for you?
Frank: I’m in this to keep cheaters off balance. I want to give the advantage to the clean athlete. I want the clean athlete to look around at the starting line and know they have as good a chance as anybody to win the race. The cheaters will get caught.
I also realize that we now have the window of opportunity. We must have a full -scale push and seize that opportunity for the good of sports at all levels. We also need to offer enough of a deterrent that it will prevent people from selling steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs at health clubs and to high school kids.
RW: Why did you resign from USADA?
Frank: I needed to get back and earn a living. I’m still active as their spokesperson.
On his new Book…
RW: Tell us about your new book.
Frank: I just finished it. It’s called “Frank Shorter’s Running for Peak Performance”. It’s available in 7 languages: English, French, Japanese, German, Italian, Korean, Spanish. It’s for runners at all levels, from the beginning runner to the aspiring Olympian. It’s really about helping people to learn to train themselves.
RW: What’s the main point of the book?
Frank: It’s simple really. It’s about the basics. It’s about “de-accessorizing” your running. In essence, there are no secrets.
RW: What do you mean by that?
Frank: I think people do way too much accessorizing. Running is simple. Often, if we want to detract from drugs and other performance-enhancers, we make it seem very complex. Take body building for example. How much bounding does a Kenyan runner do? How much GU does he need to eat? We need to get out of this habit of “accessorizing” running and get back to understanding the basics. Running shouldn’t be complicated.
On life beyond racing
RW: Besides the book, what else are you up to these days?
Frank: Well, finishing the book has kept me busy. I also do about 10 public appearances a year, anywhere from Hawaii to Alaska. I also give motivational talks about four or five times a year.
RW: Who is your agent?
Frank: I’ve never had an agent.
RW: How have you managed to carve out a living?
Frank: I’ve been lucky, I guess. I was involved in running when the running boom was at its peak. That gave me a lot of visibility. I was trained as a lawyer, studied at an Ivy League school, and was educated as a medical student. In the early days, I started and ran a clothing line which is still doing well in places like Japan.
I think the surest way for an elite runner to retire successfully is to do something that is ancillary to sport. I find there are few successful athletes who know how to market themselves in the right way to be successful beyond their tenure as a world class athlete. Maybe they enjoy the training side too much.
RW: Last question, what will be the legacy of Frank Shorter?
Frank: Hmmm… I’ve had my mentors: my coach at Robert Giegengack at Yale, my best friend’s father who was a surgeon and Ron Clarke, an Australian runner. I view myself as a contributor to that process. If I have any legacy, I want it to be that I gave back to the next generation and had a positive impact on other people.
Lynne Bermel is a former world-ranked Ironman triathlete. She is currently working in Ottawa as a marketing and communications consultant.
About Frank Shorter
”Frankie’s 12 X 400 m with 200m jog in between each interval.
Frank Shorter Quotes:
Visit Frank's web site at: RunFrankShorter.com.
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