The great Wes Santee knows greatness when he sees it. Other than during his morning shave, it sounds as if he didn't see much of it during a recent trip to Eugene, Ore., for the Olympic trials.
Santee, who resides in El Dorado, spent a good part of Tuesday in Lawrence and shared his thoughts on the state of distance running in the United States.
I asked the Great Santee: Was there any one runner who really impressed you?
"In all honesty, no," Santee said.
How did Alan Webb, the nation's most famous active distance runner, do?
"He didn't do," Santee said.
He placed fifth.
A former Marine, Santee thinks he might have put his finger on the lack of predictable excellence among U.S. distance runners.
"One thing that was obvious to me, and I didn't know what to think of it, there were almost no college athletes there," Santee said. "Very, very few. All you saw were athletes being paid $150,000 or more a year with 'Nike' or some company across their chests. As I watched this and looked back at the times these athletes are running, there's nothing consistent about what they're doing. I don't like picking on Alan Webb particularly, but he broke Jim Ryun's high school record, started college but dropped out and took a deal from Nike. There's no structure to their training."
The Great Santee also bemoaned the lack of structure outside of training in the lives of the athletes.
"Now back in my day, the people who got out of school belonged to the New York Athletic Club or the Los Angeles Athletic Club," Santee said. "There was a little bit of structure in that in that they got up every morning and did some workout but also had to go to work, which is like the college athlete going to class, and then they would take off early in the afternoon to work out, which is also like the college kids. But when you don't have that type of coaching and structure, I think we're in trouble for reaching the potential for these athletes."
The prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs also has soured Santee on the sport that made him world famous.
"I was told on fairly good authority that a lot of them are still involved in that," Santee said. "Apparently there is some kind of enhancement that they can take, and if they wait a certain number of days it won't show up. What happened to hard work or good discipline? ... I don't know how we stop this. You've got some type of drug enhancement in all the sports. Everybody wants to be bigger and better in all the sports."
Santee believes in a different method of making men out of boys and not just track athletes.
"Frankly, I think all kids ought to have to spend two years of either military duty or public service that in most cases would teach them good discipline," said the Great Santee, who competed in the 5,000 meters in the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland.
Santee attended the Olympic trials at the request of other past running greats who want to produce a DVD to promote distance running. As for the Olympic Games in Beijing?
"I have no interest in going to China," he said.