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Olympics not only thing on athletes` minds

3 May 2007

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By Dave Ungrady

For track and field athletes, the season before an Olympic year can be as important as the Olympic year itself. A strong outdoor season builds confidence and creates awareness for the competitors before they begin final preparations for the games.

Athletes must also be aware of staying healthy and reaching peak form for the IAAF outdoor world championships, held in odd-numbered years.

Athletes, coaches and managers will consider those factors and others as they finalize schedules for the IAAF outdoor season, which began in January but reaches peaked interest this month.

"We generate the work based on what the coach tells us," said Emanuel Hudson, the manager of the HSInternational, a sports management company whose clients include former 100-meter world champions Maurice Greene and Torri Edwards. "It depends on when they want the athlete to peak." Hudson works closely with HSI's sprint coach John Smith, a former top-ranked 400-meter runner in the world, to plan the meet schedule.

Managers also consider business factors when selecting meets. "I can tell him when we can exploit the business side of it, for the financial reward and the promotional value," Hudson said, referring to Smith. "You choose where you're going based on your goals. It can depend on which one gives you the most publicity, the most money."

They have many meets to consider. The IAAF outdoor season includes more than 50 meets in four competing levels that are part of the World Athletics Tour. The circuit's premier division, the Golden League, stretches from June 15 to Sept. 16. It offers a $1 million award to any athlete who sweeps one five selected events the six league meetings. If multiple athletes accomplish the feat, they share the prize. The five meet Super Grand Prix series starts May 11 in Doha, Qatar, and ends with a meet in Stockholm, Sweden, on Aug. 7. The 13-meet Grand Prix series began with a competition in Melbourne, Australia, in early March and ends Sept. 9 with a meeting in Rieti, Italy. Area Permit Meetings feature 29 events that began in Australia in late January and end Sept. 12 with a competition in Rovereto, Italy.

Only two meets, Super Grand Prix contests in London and Stockholm, have been scheduled in August. Athletes will need a couple of weeks of rest to prepare for the IAAF world championships Aug. 25 to Sept. 2 in Osaka, Japan.

The world championships and the Olympics affect meet-planning more than any other events. This season, U.S. athletes will use the IAAF meets and others to help them peak for the U.S. outdoor championships in late June and for the world championships.

"If you make the U.S. team, we pick a schedule based on what will help you best prepare for the event you qualified for," Hudson said. "If you don't make the team, it's about making money, and you'll be on a different schedule."

Competition-based financial rewards have increased dramatically over the last two decades. Hudson said the Super Grand Prix meet in London on August 3 will pay $20,000 for the winners of such "A" events as the 100 meters and 200 meters. Winners of such "B" events as the 1,500 meters and 400 meters will pay a top prize of $10,000. The events pay the first eight finishers, with a low payment of $1,000.

Further, some athletes receive appearance fees as well as bonuses based on performance benchmarks.

No matter their motivation, hundreds of world-class track and field athletes are sharpening their spikes in anticipation of another exciting outdoor season of competition.

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