July 09, 2022 6 min read 10 Comments
Photo By Rob Jerome. Allan Tissenbaum wins again. How much winning does he have left?
By Ray Glier
Allan Tissenbaum is striding on that bridge every athlete with a competitive fiber must cross. He is 62 years old, a world champion in the 100 meters in the World Masters in Finland last weekend, but he is approaching a peak age for a Masters track & field athlete.
How long does he keep up being worldly? Does he leave the sport entirely, or just throttle down and settle for the fun?
Tissenbaum is not just thinking about what's next. He's thinking about who's next. The question that lingers for Tissenbaum these days is this:
Why is my bridge so crowded with athletes ready to leave?
Tissenbaum says the ecosystem of Masters Track & Field has cracks. He doesn’t have hard numbers, but it seems the sport is in need of a fusion of the younger athlete to the Masters class. The advances in medicine and fitness regimen should be bringing more people into the sport. Instead, Tissenbaum senses a decline.
“We’re not getting them, we’re not,” he said.
It could be that the rise of pickleball and bocce ball is picking off the Geezer Jocks that are not playing golf and that’s why more are not running and jumping.
It could be that people, after a lot of years of damn hard work, just want a C-minus for a workout ethic, just enough to stay fit. It's hard to do Masters Track at a C-minus scale.
Then Tissenbaum witnessed the rollicking atmosphere of the National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale in May and just went, “Wow.” It was athletes with A-plus fitness regimens mixed with the C-minus all comers. Some very fast and very fit people, but also a lot of slower, less flexible people.
They were all having fun. The number of participants was impressive considering the surge in travel costs and the lingering threat of Covid.
“The stands were full of people pulling for one another, complete strangers were cheering you on,” Tissenbaum said. “Our meet (USA Masters Track & Field) is not like that. It’s more cliquey, people hang out with who they hang out with.
“It's just so much of a better feeling there at the Senior Games. There's way more camaraderie, right. There's more people, there's more buzz. You know, people are friendlier. USATF can be intimidating.
Tissenbaum is not getting out of his lane with this analysis of his sport. He can look big picture because he is an anti-doping watchdog for the sport and he is invested in Masters track & field, a trusted consultant for the governing body.
Darn right he has ideas how to reinvigorate Masters Track & Field.
First, Tissenbaum says, the USATF should shower invites and information about itself on every one of the participants at the National Senior Games and not just those that competed in track and field.
“You mean to tell me one of those volleyball players couldn’t compete in track,” he said. “What about the people who play softball and can really run the bases. Tell them ‘Hey, maybe you can do both, run track and play softball’ and then they think ‘hey, that might be interesting’.”
The problem, he said, is that masters-aged athletes are not aware of all the USATF events in their area. They need to be marketed to.
Tissenbaum said the national meets need to be destination vacations, near a big city, or near a vacation spot. The city has to be somewhere people can get to and don't mind spending five or six days, alternating between relaxing and competing. Tissenbaum is sure the track at the University of Kentucky for the July 28-31 USATF Masters Nationals is a fine facility, but could there have been a better city selected?
“What about a place like Cleveland? Cleveland is fine, there are things to do, and you can get there,” he said. “We need places that are a little more appealing. People complained Florida was too hot, but meanwhile they had great attendance. A lot of people were there.”
Tissenbaum said the U.S. and Canada could hold the CanAm Games in odd years instead of the Nationals. Wouldn’t a cosmopolitan city like Toronto be swell in the summer? What about Montreal?
He wonders if people had to qualify for the USATF meet, like they do for the National Senior Games, would they be more likely to show up. The reasoning is they would be more invested in their sport after qualifying at a state event.
Tissenbaum said American Mike Powell, the world record holder in the long jump, was the face of the World Masters in Finland. The 58-year old was there two days signing autographs and then he competed.
“That’s important, if we can get some of those guys to our nationals,” Allan said. “We need to do something different. What we’re doing is not working if we get just a thousand people.”
In the 400 for Men's 85 at The National Senior Games there were 17 signups. For the USATF meet in Lexington the M85 400 has just three entered.
The conundrum for athletes who reach 60-65 is how much to devote to their sport while they are still working. Tissenbaum is at that crossroads. He needed to be more fit for the World Masters meet in Finland, which called for six races in three days in the 100 and 200 (heats and finals).
He led the 200 for 190 meters. He felt the Frenchman Patrice Carnier, so Tissenbaum leaned at the end. He fell over the finish line and lost by .01. He lost, fair and square, he said, and hesitated to take anything away from Carnier.
“I ran out of gas,” Tissenbaum said. “It was a lot of races in three days (with the heats in the 100 and 200 and the finals). We don’t do it like that here in the U.S., that many races in a short time.”
Two days earlier, when Tissenbaum was fresher, he breezed to a win in the 100 in 11.90 seconds. He had to settle for the silver in the 200 with a 24.44 to 24.43 for Carnier.
He has a back problem and if he strives for more fitness it means Tissenbaum’s back is going to cause him pain. Injuries follow. He’s also working full-time as an orthopedic surgeon. That’s why he left the National Senior Games a few days early in May after winning the gold in the 50 and 100. Tissenbaum had to get back to his practice and couldn’t wait for the 200 on Monday.
And so you see the dilemma for Masters track and field athletes after they reach 60 years old. Athletes are still consumed with the duel with themselves. “I can go faster,” they insist.
Tissenbaum has been like that for years. Performance over Place. It's why he has won 24 gold medals in the big-time meets of the USATF Nationals or World Masters, and international events. It's why he injures himself.
These men and women at the top of the sport give it some vigor and need more maintenance. Some of them, like Tissenbaum a few years ago, ignore warning labels. He was fast and wanted to go faster, so he trained harder. He tore a hamstring in 2008. Not a pedestrian tear like mine and yours, but an avulsion injury that took months to heal.
He reassembled himself, got back at it, and continued winning gold medals with staggering times for a man his age. I thought I saw a quip a few months ago that called him, “The fastest old guy on the planet.”
Still, there is no money in being a fast old guy. Heck, even the current Olympians have trouble getting paid.
“But it keeps me in shape,” Tissenbaum said.
That's the money quote right there. "Keeps me in shape." The younger sect have to bring that with them as they get older and stick with the sport.
Tissenbaum lives in Pittsburgh and, for sure, he is going run in the 2023 National Senior Games in his hometown. Pittsburgh is known as the city of bridges. He hopes there is not a crowd on his bridge as moves toward retirement.
August 10, 2022
I am a Canadian now 75 who has participated in many US Master Athletics National championships indoor and outdoor. I also participated in 4 World Master Games involving multiple sports. Plus one world outdoor and one world indoor masters athletics championship. I favor the US Master championships over all of the others.I find the athletes I talk to very friendly and accommodating. When I came to Lexington I had to fly Edmonton, Toronto, Chicago, Lexington. Including hotel it cost over $2500 CDN. There was much inconvenience in travel but worth every nickel in participating and talking to many athletes. I chose that meet over the Canadian nationals in Regina Saskatchewan about one hour flying time from Edmonton.
July 22, 2022
This guy isn’t even old! I first heard about Senior Games when I was about 62. Didn’t go to the State meet until I was almost 70, and then I started training. Was faster at 73 than at 71 because I was training. But now I’m 86 and it’s a whole different challenge.
I still have never heard of a Masters meet but this article makes the NSGA sound more attractive.
July 15, 2022
As a 72 year old who was in Finland and will be in Lexington, who trained 3 years for these meets because of Covid, and as a now-retired sports marketing guy i appreciate Mr Tissenbaum’s insights. More appealing venue
cities would be great, but USATF and WMA have trouble getting any city to bid and even to hold events when they have won bids. Then the winning cities often underperform on their commitments to hold properly officiated events certified facilities (as in Tampere, where the problems with throwing surfaces, implement weigh in and scheduling have been well
publicized). i would certainly agree that better marketing would lead to more athlete involvement, which would make National Championships more appealing for host cities. Additionally, a USATF Masters PR person is needed to seed articles in AARP, United Healthcare and other senior targeted publications and television channels. More importantly and efficiently, that Public Relations should target social media to recruit athletes over 30 with ongoing testimonials of the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits that finding your passion in track and/or field events engender. Like Mr T indicated in this piece, people just don’t know Masters athletics exist. Awareness is the 1st task, then inducing trial (free 1st time participant entries, clinics at local gyms and tracks [like i saw in Denmark recently]…) will grow the sport. Then the Orlandos and Chicagos and Clevelands can be targeted with marketing campaigns based on bigger numbers, and hence revenues. That’s what those cities base their commitments upon. The way it is now, all you need to know is cities rarely bud again after holding national or world championships. Tells you all you need to know.
July 15, 2022
I am a 65 year old marathoner and didn’t even know this world existed. I have to follow this group!
July 15, 2022
I envy my peers who continue on after 60. It’s one thing to 50, 100 or 200 metres but I a distance runner ( Steeplechase up to the marathon) and here in Canada, there are not enough competitions to put in the kind of work needed to be successful. In addition, we usually have injury issues that limit our abilities to compete days on end. Lastly, there is virtually no information available about where and when these competitions are held.
July 15, 2022
Allan, you sure touch on a lot of issues. I too attended the recent NSG as a Canadian qualifiing through the Empire State Senior Games in NY. The range of athletic abilities is impressive. Nobody is “left behind”. I have attended ten NSG’s since 2001 (I am 72) plus various other SG’s and I have never felt “non-competitive” no matter whether I was competing for medals or just surviving in the slower areas of the fields of runners (I am an 800, 1500, 5k road athlete). My wife runs these events too but she runs only in a few of our ON Masters Athletics events. Here lies the issues: It seems like a catch 22 situation. If one doesn’t think that there will be enough runners competing at her level then she will choose not to attend. That removes a 66 yr. old female from joining others who may be wishing to find other women of her abilities to run with/against. Therefore, she does not want to attend and so it goes on. Instead of having a group of women who run around the 8 min. to 9 min. 1500m race time (65 to 69 age group), none are entering. The NSG guarantees that there will always be a wide selection of abilities in this age group. This is my situation also. I have not been as competitive during the last three NSG due to various reasons, yet, I was more so in my earlier games (3 bronze medal in 1500m and 5kRR). But this has not stopped me from attending these games. In contrast, I have not attended a USATF Masters Champs for a few years now because of my poorer times. This issue is also present in our CMA and OMA Champs here in at home. We know of so many runners around our age groups who do not feel comfortable competing in more formal track, XC and road racing events because they don’t want to be running solo out there. I think our current all-comers meets need help with this. After my 800m times slowed down past 2:45 and my 1500m times past 6:00, I have not attended any of these meets. I have seen results with no one near those times. I am not afraid of being left behind in a race, but it is not much fun and I can do a time trial at home instead. Another similarly aged runner may look at this format and also not enter and hence another lost entry. I wish these all-comers meets would designate at seeded section of 6:00 to 8:00 1500m runners, which would promote participation from this calibre of runner. It certaninly is a lot of fun when competing along side other similar aged runners when all talents of runners are represented. Good work with your training/racing (I hate saying good luck when it is the work involved that I recognize). *I do recognize the tremendous efforts put in by groups in order to stage USATF Masters, CMA, OMA, NSGA, etc. events. Very grateful for the opportunities*.
July 15, 2022
I generally agree with Allen’s comments. I am 75 year old male track guy from Edmonton Alberta. I have no competition here in my category in Alberta. I have to go to the USA to properly compete in the US Outdoor and Indoor master Championships. I enjoy it more than the Worlds because the people are friendly and the meets are well organized.
July 15, 2022
Great perspective, ideas, and insight.
Take Good care.
July 15, 2022
One of your best articles. Keep up the good work!
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September 26, 2022
Allan makes a lot of sense and has been in the circuit for years, if we are to grow the sport he just provided some good avenues to do so.
A lot of respect!